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Charlie Chaplin 


To my daughrer, 

I remember, 1 remember 
Xhe fir-trees dark and high; 

I used to think their slender tops 
Were close against the sky: 

It was a childish ignorance. 

But now ’tis little joy 

'I'o know I’m farther off from heav 

Than when I was a boy. 


C^harlie Chaplin 


There was always the scream I heard, the scream that seemed 
to be coming from someone else, the scream at something 
whose face I could never sec but whose malignant presence 1 
could feel — scream after scream in the dark, the utter loneli- 
ness. And then suddenly there was the light. There were peo- 
ple caressing me, putting cold compresses on my head, for 1 
was almost rigid in my terror. 

“There, there now, Charlie,” I heard their comforting 
voices. “It’s all right. W'^ake up! Wake up!” 

They u'crc the voices of people, real people. 1 was not 
alone any longer. I would open my eyes and smile, because 
they were all there around me — my grandmother, my great- 
grandmother, my mother and sometimes even my great-grand- 



father. Sydney, my younger brother, would be sitting upright 
in his bed, blinking at me in astonishment. 

How different Sydney and I always were. He seemed 
better equipped to fight the loneliness. He was more indepen- 
dent. When he was two years old he got tired of home one 
day and just wandered off. They found him around the block 
still going. I would never have done that. 

We had one thing in common, though. We were both 
stubborn. Syd’s was the rambunctious kind of stubbornness, 
mine was more quiet. Mother didn’t really know how to cope 
with either of us. She was so glamorous and young, more like 
a big sister to us. And shortly after I was three she went back 
East to appear as a singer in night clubs and then we saw her 
only at intervals. 

For the longest time Syd and I didn’t sec our father at all. 
We were too young to be impressed by the fact that he was 
the great Charlie Chaplin. And certainly we didn’t remember 
the bitterness of his brief marriage to our mother that ended 
in separation and divorce. It was a story I was to hear in later 
years under unhappy circumstances. 

My mother, Lillita McMurray, or Lira Grey, the name 
she chose for the stage, is half Scottish, half Spanish-English. 
My maternal grandmother, Mrs. Lillian Grey, whom Syd and 
I still call Nana, is descended on her mother’s side from an old 
California family of Spanish ancestry. Louisa Carrillo was the 
maiden name of my great-grandmother, who was Grandma 
to us. She died in 1950 at the age of eighty-three. The screen 
star Leo Carrillo is supposed to be our distant relative. My 
great-grandfather, Nana’s father, William Edward Curry, 
was an Englishman. My grandfather, Robert Earl McMurray, 
my mother’s father, is Scottish. He and Nana were separated 
when my mother was very small. 

Mother was just six when she and my father first met in 
a small neighborhood restaurant which he sometimes visited. 
He was so attracted by her little-girl charm that he took time 



to talk to her and entertain her with a few simple match tricks. 
After that chance meeting they did not see each other again 
for six years. The next meeting, too, had an element of chance 
about it. Chuck Riesner, who was Dad’s associate director at 
the time, lived in the same block as Mother and Nana, and 
Mother used to play with his little boy, Dinky. Mr. Riesner 
noticed her and mentioned her to my father, suggesting that 
he take a look at her. Dad came by one day and saw Mother, 
who was out on her front lawn. He was so impressed with her 
appearance that he signed her to a year’s contract and imme- 
diately put her in The Kid, which was then being filmed with 
Jackie Coogan. 

Recently I asked Jackie what it was like working under 
my father’s direction. Jackie shook his head. 

“I don’t remember much about your father,” he said, 
“except that whenever he wanted me to cry for the camera 
he would tell me sad stories until the tears started rolling down 
my cheeks. 1 was so small — only four.” 

Then his face brightened. 

“I do remember your mother, though. We used to plav 
together on the set. She was always so gay.” 

After The Kid, Mother and Nana did bit parts in Dad’s 
two-reeler. The Idle Class. Then Mother’s contract expired 
and she disappeared out of my father’s life for several years. 
She probably would never have seen him again if one after- 
noon after school she hadn’t dropped by his studio with a girl 
friend, Merna Kennedy, to prove her boast that she actually 
did know the famous Charlie Chaplin. At the time my father 
was casting about for an unknown to play opposite him in 
The Gold Rush. 

When he saw Mother he was captivated all over again, 
but in a different way. At sixteen. Mother was no longer a 
gay little girl but had blossomed into a beautiful young lady, 
a brown-eyed, vivacious brunette. Mv father asked her to 
test for his picture. Mother did so and Dad was pleased with 
what he saw and signed her for the part. So fate or chance or 



whatever you want to call it took a hand again and threw my 
mother and father together more closely than ever before. It 
all ended with my parents’ surprise marriage in November of 

1924, in the little village of Empalme, Mexico, where they 
had fled to escape the reporters with their constant barrage of 

After the elopement my father took his bride, my mother, 
to his big new house on Summit Drive in Beverly Hills. My 
mother gave up her part in The Gold Rush to Georgia Hale 
and became a housewife. At Dad’s request Nana came to stay 
with Mother, and I was born the following year. June 28, 

1925, my birth certificate reads. I was bom at home, as my 
mother had been. My birthplace was the east bedroom, the 
room that became Syd’s and mine when in later years we 
came to live at our father’s house. 

My father was very apprehensive before my arrival. He 
had been married once before — to another young girl, named 
Mildred Harris — and their child had died within a few days 
of its birth. My father had grieved for months over the child’s 
death, grieved so bitterly that Miss Harris later maintained it 
was the chief reason for the breakup of their marriage. 

When I was born there was fresh cause for anxiety. The 
umbilical cord was wrapped so tightly around my neck that 
i was almost strangled. The doctor had to put gauze over my 
mouth and blow into it. I was spanked vigorously as well. At 
last I started crying and everyone relaxed. 

Before my birth my father had often expressed a prefer- 
ence for girls, but since I was his first-born and healthy as 
well, he welcomed my arrival with satisfaction. I was named 
Charles Spencer, after him, though there was a family quarrel 
over it. My father objected strongly, saying that bearing- his 
name would mean having to live up to his reputation, which 
might prove a strong handicap to me in later life, especially if 
I chose his profession. My mother, knowing my father’s tre- 
mendous ego, could not help feeling that his real objection 
was to having two Charlie Chaplins in the family, and con- 



tinued to press her point until she won. During my grand- 
father’s lifetime my father had been known as Charlie, Jr. 
Now I was to fall heir to this title. 

I must have been the first baby my father had ever been 
in close contact with. I was more than a baby to him. I was 
a symbol of home and home life, of all the things he had 
missed as a child — just about everything, really. You have to 
understand that to understand my father. 

My father was born April i6, 1889, at 3 Parnell Terrace, 
Kennington Road, London. The three-story brick building 
(which was bombed out during the Second World War) was 
built in the nineteenth century and had a drab, depressing ap- 
pearance. Roth my father’s parents were British subjects. My 
grandfather was a mixture of French and Irish — the Chaplin 
name is of French origin. My grandmother had Gypsy blood 
— French or Spanish — inherited from her mother. My father 
has always been inordinately proud of that wild Romany 

Both my grandparents were rather well known in the 
London music halls of the day. My grandfather was a ballad 
singer with a baritone voice that was pleasing enough to win 
him bookings in New York. .My father’s mother, Hannah 
Chaplin, who went on the stage at an early age under the 
name of Lily Harley, sang and played the piano, was for a 
while a member of a Gilbert and Sullivan troupe that toured 
F.ngland, and acted out parts in the little skits which were so 
popular on the music-hall programs. 

My father had two half brothers. One was the late Wheeler 
Dry den, the son of Leo Dr\"den, the actor. Uncle Wheeler 
was, I believe, brought up bv his own father, so that 
in early days my father was far closer to Uncle Sydney, 
his other half brother. Uncle Sydney 'vas four years older 
than my father. After Grandmother Chaplin divorced Uncle 
Sydney’s father and married my grandfather. Uncle Sydney 




took the name of Chaplin, Because of a chance resemblance 
to his stepfather — some people said he looked more like 
Grandfather in many ways than my father — he was often 
taken for a full-blooded Chaplin. 

The children of theatrical people usually lead a life sub- 
ject to constant change. My father’s was made even more in- 
secure by Grandfather Chaplin’s addiction to alcohol, which 
■kept him from providing adct|uately for his family. Me died in 
his thirties of an illness which had been brought on by his 

Almost from the first my father had a bleak childhood. 
He was often cold and hungry. When he was five he went 
through an experience so bitter that he was to remember it 
with horror all his life. He and Uncle Sydney were placed 
in an orphanage by their mother because it was impossible 
to provide for them at home any longer. He had been failed 
by his father and now his mother was failing him too, or so 
it must have seemed to a small boy of five. 

There was never enough to eat at the orphanage, never 
enough to wear. The children were always cold and hungry'. 
They were treated like criminals for the offense of being poor. 
The discipline was harsh. It was on the military order, and 
one can easily .imagine what this meant at the turn of the cen- 
tury, when the disciplining of children in general was far 
more severe than it is today. There were floggings, depriva- 
tions and solitary confinements for the smallest infractions. 
There seemed to be a concerted effort on the part of the 
orphanage personnel to break the will and the spirit of the 
children in their charge. 

To add to his loneliness. Dad’s mother seldom visited him 
during those two years of his stay in the orphanage. But when 
he was seven she came to take him home again. The release 
entry reads, “Sydney Chaplin handed back to mother, March 
10, 1896. Charles, ditto.” He came out a quiet, well-mannered 
boy — or at least that is how Cyril Holden describes him to 



me. Mr. Holden, who is the son of Fred Holden, former man- 
ager of the Canterbury Theatre, and who is exactly my father’s 
age, used to see my father often when they were eight, be- 
cause Grandfather Chaplin was at that time playing the 
theater. My father had learned well the manners that poverty 
teaches. It was only when Mr. Holden looked into his ice-blue 
eyes that he could see something there that was unbroken, 
something single-minded, intense, much bigger than his small, 
wiry body. Call it my father’s colossal ego if you wish. It 
kept him going when there was nothing else. 

“You have to believe in yourself, that’s the secret,” he 
told me once. “Even when 1 was in the orphanage, when I 
was roaming the streets trying to find enough to eat to keep 
alive, even then I thought of myself as the greatest actor in 
the world. I had to feel that exuberance that comes from utter 
confidence in yourself. Without it you go down to defeat.” 

My father needed that dream. The Chaplins’ period of 
prosperity was only temporary, and it wasn’t long before he 
was again cold and hungry and neglected. But he didn’t go 
back to the orphanage. He became scarcely more than a Lon- 
don street waif, begging for a living, sleeping heaven knows 
where, and just barely keeping body and soul together. His 
naturally wiry body became so wi/.ened that his great hand- 
some head, with its black curls, looked grotesque perched on 
top of his thin shoulders. There in the tough and ribald 
slums, where incongruities are often considered fit objects for 
ridicule, his appearance evmkcd ribald jokes and jeers. He was 
still knocked about, too, but at least he had his freedom. And 
occasionally he w'as fortunate enough to get a chance job 
which made life more secure — lather boy in a barber shop, 
janitor in a music hall, or, following early in his parents’ foot- 
steps, .small comic and dancing parts in vaudeville skits. 

There was one long period when, as a member of the 
Eight Lancashire Lads troupe, Dad knew' relative security so 
far as physical needs were concerned. But he suffered in other 



ways from that experience. The troupe made a long tour 
through the mining towns of the North of England. They 
were dismal towns over which cold, damp, smoky air always 
hovered. Drunken brawls were a frequent occurrence, and the 
sight of them acted on my father’s spirit like a physical pain. 
He shrank, too, from the long, lonely nights which he spent 
with his young fellow troupers all crowded together in one 
small cold room, homesick and motherless. Motherless and 
fatherless — perhaps those words sum up the greatest lack my 
father felt in his childhood. 

“Only mother love lasts,” he was once quoted as saying. 
But I don’t think he was ever convinced he had truly pos- 
sessed that love. He frequently told the outside world that it 
was poverty that had caused all his childhood unhappiness, 
but to my maternal grandmother he admitted an even deeper 
source of hurt, a feeling that his mother had failed him when 
he had needed her most. 

To add to the tragedy of my father’s boyhood, his 
mother began to develop symptoms of mental illness that were 
never to leave her but were to become more pronounced 
with the passing years. Her ailment was not characterized by 
violence but was, instead, a kind of withdrawal from the 
world of reality. There were times when she became unable 
to recognize her own sons and had to be hospitalized. 

My grandmother’s illness must have preyed greatly on 
my father’s mind, for he spoke of it often to Syd and me in 
later years. His light treatment of it did not deceive us. 

“Thank God you’re born with two hands and two feet 
and two legs and one head,” he would say. “That you’re nor- 
mal, because sometimes you know . . . And of course you 
could have been this other way. There’s something in the fam- 
ily, something . . . Oh, you had me definitely worried.” He 
spoke jokingly, but he would then knock on wood as though 
the very mention of that family specter had brought it nearer 
than was comfortable to him. 



Specters — the tragic figures of my grandmother and 
grandfather, the gray streets of Kennington, this was the back- 
ground against which my father stood looking down at me 
that night with more than the usual anxiety of a man for his 
first-born son. I was healthy and normal in every way, the 
doctor assured him, laughing. 

1 1 

Before my bi'rth things had not been well between inv par- 
ents, but for a little while afterwards there was a spirit of re- 
conciliation between them. They were united through a child. 
They were a family. Nana tells me that during those pleasant 
weeks my father seemed to change in nature, to become less 
taciturn, more gentle; but so far as 1 personally was con- 
cerned, I don’t believe I ever, as a baby, got beyond the stage 
of being a symbol to him. He must have been in complete awe 
of me, for he never picked me up. 

He was busy, too, with his work on The Gold Rush at 
the studio. We never saw much of him. But every morning 
before he went to work he would come into the room where 
I slept with Nana, who had the constant care of me, to greet 



me and see how I was. When he came home at night he 
would drop in again to look at me in the same way. 

Though my father didn’t know quite what to do with me, 
still, he was proud that he had a son. Many times the ways in 
which he showed off his pride were as quixotic as he is by 
nature. One morning on his way to work he stopped by the 
crib where I was lying, completely naked, and bent over me. 
lie was wearing a white suit which I, with all the abandon of 
a .small child, proceeded to soil with a gargantuan stream of 
water. My father didn’t trouble to change the suit. He went 
to the studio wearing that obvious yellow stain like a medal 
of honor, and when he was asked what had happened he 
threw back his chest as though he had just been decorated. 

“iMv son did this,” he said proudly. “Isn’t that something?” 

On March 30, 1926, my brother Sydney was born in the 
middle bedroom of the Cdiaplin house on the hill. My father’s 
desire for a girl had by tliis rime become so overpowering that 
he was almost furious with disappointment when Sydney 
arrived. But my brother was soon forgiven his error. 

Sydney was named Syilney Bari Chaplin, after Uncle Syd- 
ney, though my mother wanted to call him Thomas Edward. 
My father won this battle. 

There were no complications to Sydney’s birth. He was a 
lusty boy from the start. A nurse was brought in to care for 
him and he shared the middle bedroom with Mother. .M\' 
father’s itinerary now included two stops on his way to work. 
1 le would go in firsr to look at Syd and then he would 
come to look at me. From tliere down the stairs he would go, 
out the front door and on to the studio. It was the same rou- 
tine when he returned from work. 

It was shortly after Syd was born that 1 made my first 
acquaintance with the Little Tramp who was to play so great 
a part in my life in coming years. It was late in the day. Syd- 
ney lay in lied with Mother. I was sitting on Nana’s lap when 
suddenlv' the door opened and in walked Dad. Too tired to 
take off his costume at the studio, he appeared before me 



wearing the baggy pants and the silly little mustache that had 
become a beloved symbol to the whole world. I stared at him 
with eyes growing wider and rounder. Who was he? Out of 
what strange world had he come to penetrate our family 
circle? They tell me I was never an obstreperous child. I 
began to cry silently. 

“Why are you crying?” the strange little man said. “It’s 
only Daddy. It’s Daddy.” 

But even the sound of that familiar voice could not stop my 
tears. Then the Little Fellow reached up and pulled off one 
corner of his mustache and said, “See? It’s Daddy.” 

I went on crying, so he pulled loose the next section of his 

“It’s Daddy,” he repeated again. 

Caught between astonishment and tears, I stared at this 
weird apparition that was half my father, half a very peculiar- 
looking stranger. Then he pulled loose the last section of his 
mustache, saying once again as he did so, “See, it’s Daddy.” 

But I had already broken into a wide, pleased smile. The 
Little Tramp who had made millions laugh had frightened his 
own small son to tears — frightened him with the thought that 
the father whom he saw so seldom but still loved, had loved 
from the very start of his life, had been metamorphosed into 
something alien. For how completely that familiar face had 
changed before my very eyes, like quicksilver — a personality 
I couldn’t grasp, a nature to which I couldn’t cling . . . some- 
thing unreliable that was there and gone again. 

I suppose a lot of people thought Syd and I were very 
fortunate boys. Our mother was young and beautiful. Our 
father was famous around the world. We had, besides, two 
grandmothers and two great-grandparents to make over us. 

Sometimes Great-grandfather and Great-grandmother 
Curry came to the hill to visit and to admire their grandsons. 
Great-grandmother Curry was always very fond of Dad. 
Great-grandfather Curry and my father got along well to- 


gether too, then, though there had been some differences 
between them before my father and mother were married. 
Both being English, the two men had similar ways and cus- 
toms. They had an equal amount of stubbornness and pride 
and they shared the same outlook on life, especially where 
children were concerned. They both approved of them, but 
in their place. 

But my great-grandfather felt Dad went much too far 
when he maintained that children should be taken away from 
their parents when they were young and brought up by the 
state. This wasn’t the “communist” propaganda it appeared 
to be, because the idea of being subservient to a state is re- 
pellent to my father, who is such an individualist himself. 
Nor was it, as Great-grandfather and Nana supposed, because 
my father felt children brought up by the state would not be 
spoiled bur would be trained properly. It was really just be- 
cause my father had suffered so deeply as a child that he 
wanted to spare all other children the same fate. He saw the 
state as an all-wise, wealthy and humanitarian being that 
would never let a child down. It was just one of his many 
impractical and completely idealistic theories to bring about 
a Utopia — a Utopia in which no one would suffer. 

Every week we would have a visit with Grandmother 
Chaplin too. My father would send his chauffeur to bring her 
to the house, or we would all go out to her little place on 
Lankershim Boulevard, in the San Fernando \’^alley near 
Hollywood. My father had brought Grandmother Chaplin to 
this countr)' about four years before he and Mother were 
married. He had always been devoted to his mother. When 
through Uncle Sydney’s connections he joined the Fred 
Karno theatrical company and began to earn a steady salary 
of some thirty dollars a week, he put her in a private nursing 
home in England. After his phenomenal rise to success in 
Hollywood he began working to bring her over here so that 
he could more easily look after her. It hadn’t been easy to do. 
Her mental condition made Grandmother Chaplin ineligible 



for citizenship, and as an alien she was considered undesirable, 
because there was always the possibility that she might one 
day become a ward of the state. It took my father several 
years to get through all the legal difficulties which stood in 
his way. But at last, after agreeing to post an annual bond as 
guarantee of her care, he was given .special permission to 
bring her to this country. 

For most of the seven years which remained to her. Grand- 
mother Chaplin lived in the little rented house on Lankersliim 
Boulevard. My father hired the couple from whom he rented 
the house to care for her, and provided her with all the medi- 
cal and nursing attention she needed. When he discovered 
that she delighted in sightseeing, he put his car and chauffeur 
at her disposal. He did everything in his power to make her 
comfortable and happy — everything but visit her. I don’t 
know whether he was perturbed because of her unfortunate 
mental condition or whether it was because she brought back 
so vividly all his unhappy boyhood, but he could never .sec 
her without feeling a depression that was sometimes as acute 
to him as physical pain, that would for daj’s afterwards, 
preventing all concentration on his work. 

It was my mother, used to the gregarious spirit in her own 
closely knit family, who persuaded my father to see Grand- 
mother Chaplin- more often. And so evolved that weekly visit 
with her. 

When people saw my father and grandmother together 
they realized at once how much they resembled each other. 
Though my father has a large head — seven and three-cjuarter 
inches in circumference — which he inherited from his father, 
his small size comes from his mother. Fie lias her beautiful 
glass-blue eyes, her full lips and roguish smile, and her deli- 
cate, expressive hands. 

Both Mother and Nana found Grandmother Chaplin a very 
charming woman, as did all those who knew her. It was only 
after you talked to her for a while that you realized she lived 
in a different world from yours — a M'orld of fantasy. 



Sometimes Grandmother Chaplin would gravely discuss 
the air raids which the big Gcnnan Zeppelin had made over 
London in the war just past and which had so terrified her. 
At other times slie would prattle on about Grandfather Chap- 
lin, whom she remembered with affection. Sometimes she 
would content herself with expressing her pride and love of 
Dad in one glowing exclamation which she would reiterate 
over and over again, “My son! My son!” 

She never talked about the early days, the days of her 
youth, the days of my father’s boyhood, the unhappy days of 
want and privation. Perha[>s she had forgotten them. Yet 
there were those who saw her on numerous occasions who 
found her much quieter, more subdued and thoughtful when 
she was with my father. 

Sometimes, though. Grandmother Chaplin would be in a 
gayer mood. She still remembered the stage routines of her 
youth and she would play the piano and sing for us. Presently 
she would jump up from the piano scat and start to do the 
numbers w'ith which she had once pleased audiences in the 
London music halls. Twirling round and round and lifting her 
skirts as she did so, she would perform a merry dance just 
out of reach of my hands stretched out to her. 

Then Grandmother Chaplin would suddenly stop before 
me and laughingly bend over to pick me up. This always 
alarmed my father. I le would shake his head at Nana and 
Mother, afraid that Grandmother Chaplin would be careless 
with me. 

“Watch her! Oh, do watch her,” he would whisper warn- 
ingly. “Don’t let her pick him up. Please! She might drop him 
out the window by mistake.” 

It was useless for Mother and Nana to assure him there 
was really nothing fear, that in essential wa\s Grand- 
mother Chaplin was quite dependable. Dad has a runaway 
imagination that pictures things m hyperbole and often en- 
vLsions the direst consequences from the most commonplace 



To understand 'the position of our family in Hollywood dur- 
ing those days you have to know something of the history 
that catapulted my father from the obscurity of the Kcn- 
nington slums to his place in the movies as King of Comedy. 
In this town his overnight success has always been considered 
one of our brightest phenomena. But you might say the 
miracle began with his mere survival from his rugged child- 
hood experiences. Yet beyond that something else was pre- 
served, perhaps even intensified by everything he suffered — 
something bright and effervescent, the spirit of fun that 
couldn’t be killed, though it had to filter through tragedy to 
break the surface. 

Aly father first drew attention to himself when as a child 



of eight he appeared at the Hippodrome in London with the 
Eight Lancashire Lads. Dressed as a dog, he brought down the 
house with impromptu realistic business, first with a prop 
tree and then by sniffing among the other little dogs. The 
management, frantic with fear the police would close the 
theater, got him off stage as quickly as possible. 

In his teens he toured the North Country again, this time 
with the Sherlock Holmes Company as Billy the Shoeshine 
Boy. Whenever in later years I talked about my stage work, 
my father would say, “Oh, you know your father is a stage 
actor, too. He’s had a little stage experience.” At first I ex- 
pected him to follow up this remark by saying he had played 
Hamlet or Cyrano. Instead he would boast, “Yes, when I was 
fourteen I did Billy the Shoeshine Boy in ‘Sherlock Holmes.’ ” 

1 learing my father talk so often in such a nostalgic vein about 
this part, I couldn’t help feeling that secretly he might have 
preferred the stage to pantomime and the movies. 

My father was about seventeen when he joined Uncle 
Sydney with the Fred Karno troupe. He was never a star in 
England, but always played the supporting roles. When the 
Karno Company toured the Continent, my father brought 
down the house at the Folies-Bergcrc in Paris with the dog 
act which had aroused such enthusiasm in London audiences 
when he innovated it at the age of eight. One night he was 
invited to join Claude Debussy, who was in the audience, and 
received the composer’s enthusiastic congratulations. My 
father has always considered those moments with Debussy 
one of the highlights of his career. He spoke of it often to 
me when I was a boy. 

It was my father’s unique work even in bit parts that led 
to his being invited to join the second Kamo troupe, which 
was touring America. The credit for bringing him to this 
country goes to Amy Reeves, wife of the late .\lfred Reeves. 
At the time Alf was in charge of booking for the second 

Amy first became aware of Dad’s talents in 1909. Then 



unmarried, she was a dancer with the Karno Company in 
London and she and Dad had small parts in one of the 
sketches. Uncle Sydney was the star of the show. A year 
later, after Amy had married Alf and was touring America 
with him and the second Kamo Company, she remembered 
my father. At the time Mr. Reeves had just been struck by a 
familiar malady. His leading comedian had left him for 
greener pastures. He returned to l.ondon and, at Amy’s sug- 
gestion, looked in on my father’s acting, signed him at once 
and took him back with them as the star of the show. This 
was in 1910. 

My father toured the United States for three years with 
the company. In 1912 he received an offer from another out- 
standing comedian, Td W’ynn, who was to become liis close 
friend in later years. Wynn, who had his own troupe at the 
time, saw Dad’s act and so admired it that he offered my 
father sixty-five dollars a week to join his troupe. Dad held 
out for sevcnt\ -fivc dollars, but Wynn shook his head. 

“Oh, you’ll never earn that much in this country,” he 

In 1913 Dad signed his first motion-picture contract. He 
was in Philadelphia when he received the telegram from 
Adam Kessel asking him to get in touch with the New York 
office of Kessel and Bauman, the owners of Keystone Films. 
The telegram was addressed to Mr. Charles Chapman. 

Actually it was Mack Sennett who instigated the sending 
of that telegram. He discovered my father on a chance visit 
to the American Music Hall, where Dad was playing the role 
of the drunk in A Night in an English Music Hall. “Though 
he was great, I think if he had not been seen by me that day 
in the theater in New York he would probably have gone 
back to England,” Mr. Sennett says. “He would have been a 
great music-hall actor; but I don’t think he would ever have 
been in movies, because they weren’t making comic movies 
in England in those days. Hollywood was the only place for 


My father’s opinion of what he would have been except for 
Mr. Sennett’s chance intervention differs greatly. Dad says 
that at the time he and a fellow vaudevillian had been saving 
their money to buy an Arkansas farm and raise hogs. 

My father hesitated a long while before going to Holly- 
wood. He had a secure place with the Fred Karno Company, 
and as the star of the show he had a comfortable salary of 
fifty dollars a week. Even after he had managed to talk Key- 
stone Films into paying him the a.stronomical weekly sum of 
a hundred and fifty dollars, he still wasn’t convinced he was 
making the right move. He doubted whether the new medium 
would last and whether he could fit himself into it. Mack 
Sennett must have shared his views when he saw my father 
for the first time without makeup. Amy Reeves says his ex- 
treme youth always astonished everv'one, because in makeup 
he looked like a forty-five-year-old man. 

“Are you really the drunk?” Mr. Sennett asked with a 
sinking heart. 

In reply my father did a little comedy routine and bowed. 
It was just a cover up for his lack of confidence. In later years 
he himself was to admit that once he was in Hollywood, his 
ner\musncss kept him from appearing at the studio for three 
days, and only a phone call from .Mr. Sennett to his modest 
hotel on Bunker Hill brought him out of hiding at last. 

My father’s appearance at the studio caused some startled 
glances. Ford Sterling, whose place he was filling, gave him 
a quick once-over and roared with laughter. 

“You’ve been taken. Mack,” he told Mr. Sennett. “You’ve 
been taken by a little greenhorn who just doesn't have what 
it takes for the movies.” 

Most of the people on the lot were inclined to agree with 
Sterling. My father was so British in speech and action — he 
even called motion pictures “flickahs” — that no one could see 
how he could go over in America. He was a shy, unobtrusive 
young man who lived a frugal life and kept quite a bit to 
himself in his cheap hotel. I le had a ver\' Cockney outlook. 

2 I 


with a Cockney’s close eye for thrift. He told Mr. Scnnett 
one day that after he had made his first hundred thousand 
dollars he was going to retire. I suppose he meant it then as 
much as he has meant it ever since. That talk of retiring has 
been periodic with my father ever since those Keystone days. 
I can’t recall his finishing a single big picture without telling 
me it was his last, that he was through for good. 

My father’s subtle sense of humor seemed particularly our 
of place at Keystone, where cast and crew were like one l)ig 
boisterous family, always clowning among themselves and 
pulling practical jokes. One morning they couldn’t resist try- 
ing a prank on my father, because he seemed such a shy little 
odd-ball. The joke had been originally planned only for Jess 
Dandy, the oversized comic, who spent a lot of time in the 
washroom reading the morning paper. They wired the toilet 
seat and when Dandy went in they turned on the juice. In an 
instant out charged the comic, yowling that he’d been killed. 
When a little later, oblivious to what had gone on, Dad 
walked in and headed for the washroom, the pranksters 
turned on the juice again. 

But this time no one came flying out the door. Instead there 
was a loud thump and then a silence which grew and grew. 
Everyone got uneasy. Then someone muttered that the elec- 
tric charge might have been too much. At last they all went 
quietly to the washroom and pushed open the door, fearing 
the worst. There lay my father sprawled out, face down, 
motionless. But while they stood there staring in horror he 
suddenly lifted his head, revealing the impish smirk that has 
since bedeviled so many millions from the screen. Insolently 
he lay there thumbing his nose at them. 

I guess my father was considered insolent in other ways as 
well, or at least noncooperative. Though he was polite and 
quiet, he was also stubborn and argumentative with the direc- 
tor about how he should play his parts. In those days comedy 
was fast-paced and depended on plenty of action, just so it 
was rough and tough. My father’s pantomime routines relied 



on delicacy, a graceful, almost ballet tempo of movement. 
When he tried to bring them to the screen, the director 
balked. He said they were too slow and wasted too much 
footage and wouldn’t hold the interest of the audience. It 
looked as though the director was right when my father’s 
first picture came out. It was a flop. F.veryone was convinced 
that the “obscure little Knglishman’’ Air. Sennett had picked 
up was a real dud. 

The story goes that at this time the whole cast of the studio 
got together to dream up a more photogenic costume than the 
British frock coat and toj) hat Dad had worn for his first pic- 
ture. And so out of odds and ends the Little 7'ramp costume 
came into being. But my father told me once that the cos- 
tume had really originated years before. One night while he 
was janitoring in a London music hall the frantic manager 
came to him with the dismal news that the star comedian was 
sick and he needed a fill-in. VV’ould Dad help out? The 
comedian was a big man, and his clothes were oversize for 
Dad — the pants baggy, the shoes too large. But the derby was 
too small, because Dad’s head was larger than the comediaa’s. 

“I just put them on and there was my tramp outfit,” my 
father told me. “1 went out and everyone laughed to see the 
little guy in the big guv’s pants. I evolved a nightly routine 
which ended with m\' falling into a tub of water on stage. 
The pants would blow up and I’d float around with air in 

AA’ith the tramp outfit came the tramp personality. It 
wasn’t a studied character. It just released whole from 
somewhere deep within mv father. It was really my father’s 
alter ego, the little boy who never grew up: ragged, cold, 
hungry, bur still thumbing his nose at the world. 

Now that Dad v'as firmly established at Keystone he was 
able to reciprocate Uncle Svdnev’s good turn of getting him 
into the Karno troupe by sending for him to join the Key- 
stone cast. 




“Sydney was all righr,” Mr. Sennett recalls, “though he 
wasn’t as good an actor as your father by a long shot. But he 
had the business brains of the family. He took over the man- 
agement of your father’s affairs.” 

As time went by and my father’s popularity soared, his 
self-confidence grew. He began to assert himself more and 
more about how scenes should be played. He wasn’t arguing 
just to be different. He simply wasn’t the kind of man who 
could be content to be the personality and let someone else 
plan the framework in which he should be exhibited. From 
the moment he walked into those .studio gates he began to 
study motion-picture techniques with all the intensity he puts 
into everything, whether it’s work or play. 

“Night after night he was the last performer to leave the 
studio,” Mr. Sennett recalls. “He stayed to watch the other 
companies in action. He took in everything — everything. He 
was a terrific student.” 

By the end of the year my father was doing his own writ- 
ing and directing. He made thirty-five films for Keystone in 
1914, and in 1915 went over to Essanay at ten times his weekly 
salary with Keystone. He did fourteen films for Essanay, and 
then in 1916 signed with the Mutual Company for ten thou- 
sand dollars a week, with a bonus of a hundred and fifty thou- 
sand dollars. This totaled six hundred and seventy thousand 
dollars a year, a figure that made headlines around the world 
and set the precedent for the fabulous salaries other film per- 
sonalities were to demand and receive. My father was twenty- 
six years old at the time. Two years before he had been only 
a music-hall pantomimist. 

“How the hell could he make ten thousand dollars a week 
after just two years in this country?” says Mr. Sennett. “Be- 
cause he was a genius, that’s how. That little English boy was 
a pretty bright boy.” 

My father had no idea of the extent of his popularity until 
he made his famous trip to New York, where Uncle Sydney 
had preceded him, to close the Mutual contract. He was shav- 



ing in the men’s lavatory when the train stopped at Albuquer- 
que, New Mexico. I le looked idly out the window and saw a 
crowd of some two thousand people gathered in front of the 
train. Thinking they were there to greet some dignitary 
aboard, Dad went out to see who it was, his face half lathered. 
To his amazement, someone in the crowd suddenly shouted, 
“There he is! There he is! There’s Charlie Chaplin!” 

Dad found this same tumultuous welcome awaiting him all 
across the country. Even the dignified Neiv York Times 
banner-lined his arrival in New York with the exclamation, 
“He Is Here!” The dream of the little boy of the Kennington 
slums had been fulfilled — and in short order. He had become 
the greatest, the best-known, the best-loved comedian in the 
world. But there must have been a peculiar flatness about 
that moment of glory. 

“I was a celebrity that everyone knew,” Dad was to tell me 
in later years. “But I diiln’t know ant'one in the whole city 
of New York except your Uncle Sydney. I was loved by 
crowds, but I didn’t have a single close friend I could talk 
to. I felt like the loneliest man alive.” 

Howev'er, despite his loneliness. Dad put his amazing pop- 
ularity to good use. 1 le tripled his salary demand on Mutual 
and got it. I can imagine how much the company regretted 
not having signed him quietly in I lollywood. 

My father made twelve comedies for Mutual and then went 
over to First National Exhibitors’ Circuit, a newly formed re- 
leasing company, where he could be his own producer. His 
astronomical salary continued. He was to receive a million 
dollars, with a fifteen-thousand-dollar bonus for signing and 
an equal share of profits above costs. In return he was to make 
eight pictures in the following eighteen months. 

Now that he was to be a producer with perfect freedom in 
the making of his films, my father began to build his own 
studio on the corner of La Brea Avenue and Sunset Boulevard 
in Hollywood. The cornerstone of the building bears the im- 
print of his tramp feet and the date, 1918, the year the studio 
was completed. 



As soon as Dad had signed the contract with First National 
he sent a cablegram to Alfred Reeves, the former booking 
agent of the Karno Company, asking him to come to Holly- 
wood. “When I make my way in pictures I’m going to have 
Alf for my manager,” Dad had told Amy Reeves three years 

The First World War was in progress when Alf Reeves 
came over, and he found the United States seething with mar- 
tial spirit. In the spring of 1918, Dad did his part by joining 
Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford on a two-month tour 
to sell bonds for the Third Liberty Loan. The close friendship 
that developed between the three was to result in 1919 in the 
forming of the famous United Artists Releasing Corporation, 
which from 192 3 on was to distribute all my father’s pictures. 

When Amy Reeves joined her husband in Hollywood, after 
the signing of the Armistice, she found that Dad, who was 
then twenty-nine, had just married Mildred Harris, a sixteen- 
year-old film personality. In later years .Miss Harris was to 
write a scries of poignant newspaper articles about that un- 
happy marriage. She told of my father’s moodiness, his 
periods of abstracted silence, his intense need to be alone, 
his long, lonelv walks at night, the weird, sad music he used 
to improvise by the hour. She soon discovered that where his 
work was concerned — and w hen he is making a picture that 
work continues day and night — she was nonexistent. The in- 
evitable separation took place after the birth and death, a few 
days later, of their baby in the summer of 1919. 

The separation, xvith its concomitant charges and counter- 
charges, broke in the papers with lurid headlines. They w’ere 
the first of a scries of flaming front-page stories that through- 
out the years have punctuated my father’s career. It is a para- 
dox that Dad, who craves privacy more than any other man 
I know% should have had the exquisite torture of seeing so 
many of his intimate troubles det.iiled in print by the news- 

It was, of course, natural that they should carry the amus- 



ing account of a fist fight between him and the late Louis B. 
Mayer, at that time Mildred Harris’ production manager, 
which took place while the divorce was pending. The story 
goes that Dad heard Mayer had been influencing Miss Harris 
not to accept the rwenty-five-thousand-dollar settlement he 
had offered. As usual, mv father lost his head and solemnly 
vowed to knock Mayer down the next time they met. 

It didn’t take Dad long to regret that idle threat. In those 
days Hollywood was a much more closely knit and dramatic 
town than it is today, and Dad’s wild statement was taken at 
its face value. The word went around that he was out for 
Mayer. From then on my father felt like the hero of some 
VV’estem melodrama stalking the town with his hand at his 
holster. Only he was a very reluctant hero, for above all things 
he didn’t want to attract further unfavorable publicity to him- 
self. Instead of hunting down his enemy he was doing his best 
to avoid him. Unfortunately, he wasn’t successful, and one 
night he and Mr. Mayer found themselves together in the 
dining room of the Alexandria Hotel in downtown Los An 

Dad knew his big rnomenr had come. All rhe other guc.sts 
were staring at him in hushed expectancy. He waited for ,Mr. 
Mayer in the corridor of the hotel. 

“Take off your glasses, Alayer,” my father said, and then 
made a desultory swing at him and missed. After which .Mayer 
struck Dad, and the two men clinched. It was in this position 
that Dad slipped and went down, striking his head on a scaf- 
folding placed there to make some repairs. The house detec- 
tive rushed forward to stop the fight, and several guests helped 
Dad up. Both he and Air. Alayer cjuictly disappeared. 

Aly father could never remember that incident wirlaout a 
certain amount of embarrassment. “I trapped myself into 
something by talking too much,’’ he told me. 

During the upheaval over Mildred Harris my father feared 
for his picture. The Kid, for his reputation in general and his 
career in particular. But in November of 1920 he made a set- 



tiement to his estranged wife of a hundred thousand dollars 
together with some community property, and the divorce 
went through quietly. Publicity died out and my father was 
left to finish his picture in peace. I think it is interesting to 
note that the pretty dark-haired girl of twelve who appeared 
as the flirting angel in the dream sequence of The Kid was to 
be my father’s next wife and my mother. 

In 1921, when The Kid was completed, my father took his 
first trip abroad after his rise in ^lollywood. His position in 
life had changed greatly from the days he had been just an- 
other music-hall performer. Now he was returning to Eng- 
land as an idol, and he found himself treated as an equal by 
such celebrities as George Bernard Shaw, James M. Barrie, 
Thomas Burke and H. G. Wells. 

In later years my father was to explain that his chief pur- 
pose in going to England had been to look up a boyhood 
sweetheart, a girl by the name of I letty Kelly. But upon his 
arrival he discovered that Hetty, a vivacious brunette just a 
little older than he, had recently died. .My father’s idyllic 
dream of Hetty continued to haunt him through the years — 
perhaps it was partly because she became inaccessible to him 
that his feeling of tenderness for her lasted so long. 

In October of 1921, Dad returned to Hollywood and 
buried himself in work again. At the same time he found the 
leisure to entangle himself romantically with a succession of 
beautiful women — Pola Negri . . . Claire Windsor . . . Clare 
Sheridan. It was a condition which was to run true in all the 
periods of his life when he was unattached. 

But my father was no hedonist. Though he had become one 
of the richest men in Hollywood he was, up until this time, 
still living in modest, nondescript apartments and rented 
houses. Even his dressing room at the studio was so small and 
dingy that it brought protests from his friends, especially 
Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford, who had been married 
in 1920. 



“You should have a room worthy of your position,” Doug 
would lecture him. “One like mine.” 

My father would look at Fairbanks’ elegant dressing room 
and shake his head. 

“If I had a room like that,” he would say, “I couldn’t pos- 
sibly portray the Little Tramp. I need a place that looks like 

Doug Fairbanks and Mary Pickford weren’t able to per- 
suade my father to modernize his dressing room, but finally 
they needled him into buying six acres of the barren slopes 
below Pickfair, which they had recently built. 1 think it was 
Mary who was really responsible, for my father is more sus • 
ceptible to the pleas of women and he had a great admiration 
for her. 

When he bought the land on Summit Drive it was only a 
wild waste, the home of rabbits and coyotes. Me began work 
on it at once, hiring Alexican gardeners to cover the barren 
slopes with trees because he loves the loneliness of woods, 
hiring contractors to crown the top of the hill with the 
that he himself had designed. I can only imagine the emotions 
that stirred him as he watched that stout yellow, a 
combination of Basque and modem Spanish architecture, ris- 
ing on its hill. It was the first real home he had ever known. 
It seemed impregnable, solid as the old hill itself, looking down 
on the small town of Beverly Hills that lay scattered out 
below it. 

At the time my father built his house, a decade after he had 
been signed by Keystone, the more subtle humor-pathos 
comedy which he had inaugurated had won out ov'er the old 
slam-bang style of the Keystone comedies. Comedians were 
adopting the techniques he had innovated. Producers and di- 
rectors were studying his methods of film making. He had 
become not only wealthy and famous bur influential as well. 

There were those who had known him in the old days who 
maintained my father had been changed by his success, that 
he was no longer the shy, unobtrusive Englishman who had 



left the Kamo troupe for an uncertain career in Hollywood. 
They said he had become an egocentric of the greatest mag- 
nitude, who couldn’t bear to be crossed in anything. There 
were others, though, who said he had remained surprisingly 
unchanged, that what looked like tyranny was only the whole- 
hearted concern of the artist for perfection. But all were 
agreed that he was a genius and that his position in Holly- 
wood was as secure as the house he had built on the hill. That 
was how things stood when he brought my mother to his 
home as his bride. That was how things were when Syd and 
I were babies. 

3 * 

My mother and father’s marriage wasn’t right from the very 
start, and nothing could have been done to make it so. If you 
had looked all over the world you couldn’t have found two 
more divergent personalities. Toda)’ .Mother looks philosoph- 
ically at that strange marriage of opposites. 

“You learn a sense of humor with the years,” she says. “I 
can see now that the whole thing was ridiculous from the 
start, the hilarious story of two people who were definitely 
mismatched in age and everything else.” 

But it wasn’t humorous then. I'xcept for that brief period 
which followed my birth, it was the torture of complete in- 
compatibility for two years. My father had a feeling of having 
been harnessed to a domesticity which he did not in the least 



understand, not its obligations or the essential give and take 
of its nature. It had been the same when he married Mildred 
Harris. He was the first to recognize his deficiency in this 

“I am not so sure I should ever marry,” he said once. “I 
like to be free to travel; free to eat at any time and free to do 
as I please. When I work I am oblivious to the world and it’s 
difficult to ask any woman to be happy when at times I for- 
get her very existence.” 

Mother was certainly not the person to be happy under 
such conditions. She was only sixteen when she married my 
father, a lively young girl who should have still been in high 
school, enjoying parries and dates and all the things that go 
with teenage living. 

From the first she was in awe of my father, who, at thirty- 
five, was more than twice her age. I'houi^h he was her hus- 
band by law, in fact he was a great figure, the great Charlie 
Chaplin, wearing, or so it seemed to her, an aura of mystery 
and power. She couldn’t understand his complex nature with 
its strange blend of introverted darkness and extroverted 
gaiety, or his almost fanatic devotion to work. She. too, began 
to have a feeling that she had exchanged her freedom for a 
prison in which she found nothing that resembled her romantic 
teenage dreams of love and marriage. 

What went on over Syd's and mv heads in those melan- 
chol\' years! Idiere were bitter recriminations from my father, 
hysterical tears from mv mother. 

“Fm not coming home to you, Lita,” Dad would exclaim 
in the heat of his anger. “I don’t intend to be a husband to 

And then he would stay away night after night. Night after 
night my mother would listen in vain for his return. The 
Christmas Day that followed their marriage she and Nana 
heard him in the early morning hours. His weaving footsteps 
coming up the stairs and groping uncertainly down the hall 
told them he was drunk. My father drunk! That tells me more 



than anything else the extent of his anguish and despair, be- 
cause it is the only time I have ever heard of his drinking too 
much. He has always had an aversion to liquor. 

As the atmosphere around the house became more unbear- 
able, Mother and Nana began to take Syd and me away on 
short trips to relieve the tension. On one of these vacations 
at the seaside town of Coronado I learned to walk. I was a 
year old then. When I came back I amused my father with 
my talents. But I still remained a symbol to him. I’m sure. 
Had Syd and I both become symbols of something that now 
looked to him like a gigantic trap? He lived within himself 
and his own misery those days. 

That summer of ’26 my father, who had released The Gold 
Rush in August of the previous year, was well into his pic- 
ture The Circus and growing more and more tense, as he al- 
ways does during his periods of creation. Finally he com- 
plained to Mother and Nana that he couldn’t concentrate with 
so many people in the house. He suggested that they take me 
on a trip to Honolulu. He would keep Syd behind with his 
nurse because, as he explained, you couldn’t get the proper 
milk for a baby aboard ship. 

Mother .and Nana accepted the offer gladly. It was only 
after they had boarded the ship that they began to wonder 
why he had kept Syd. Had he really meant it about the milk, 
or did he plan to kidnap my younger brother? When they got 
back would Syd be gone, perhaps sent to England out of 
their reach? All sorts of suspicions run rife in the kind of at- 
mosphere that then prevailed in our home. 

After three weeks of worry about Syd, Mother and Nana 
came back home with me, ignoring Dad’s pleas for us to stay 
away longer. 

No one could expect a marriage like this to last. It came to 
an end on the first of December, 1926, when Syd was eight 
months old and I was a year and a half. 

I guess there always has to be one final incident, one last 



dramatic exclamation point about which people can say, 
“That was when . . In this instance it was a dinner party 
which my mother and Nana gave at the Biltmore for some 
friends who were visiting in town. At eleven thirty that night 
they brought their guests up to see the house on the hill. 
They didn’t expect my father to be there — he had taken to 
staying away from home until much later. But suddenly in 
the midst of the gay chatter and the playing of the phon- 
ograph he appeared at the head of the stairs and peremptorily 
ordered the visitors from the house. Everyone was shocked. 
The guests left, subdued, and my mother was mortified be- 
yond all hope of forgiveness. 

The next day, while our father was at the studio, she left 
the house with Syd — 1 had spent the night with our great- 
grandparents. Nana stayed behind to tell my father, then she 
too left. 

If my mother and father had been just an ordinary couple 
breaking up, their separation and subsequent divorce would 
have been got through with the usual amount of unprevent- 
able bitterness followed by the inevitable adjustment. But 
there would have been no complications from outside sources 
to add to their misfortune. Unhappily Dad’s name made him 
front-page copy again. The headlines were much more lurid 
than they had been at the time of his divorce from Mildred 
Harris. First Mother’s separation from him hit the front pages 
of the newspapers. I'hen excerpts from her bitter forty-two- 
page divorce complaint were aired. Dad responded by saying 
that it was a plot to blast his reputation. 

From then on Dad and Mother’s private affairs became a 
three-ring circus for the public to enjoy. Everyone got into 
the act. Attorneys for both sides were busy making their 
own statements. Mother and we boys were pictured as starv- 
ing, Dad as a monster who was refusing to pay any support 
money. Clubwomen made a flamboyant gesture of taking up 
a collection for us. Intellectuals in France signed a petition 
saying that the lives of artists should be their own affair. 



A judge ordered Dad to pay Mother four thousand dollars 
a month alimony pending the divorce settlement, and denied 
him visitation rights to his children. Attorneys for Mother 
threatened to have Dad jailed if in sixty days he had failed to 
comply with the injunction. And anonymous letter writers 
threatened the judge for fixing such a high alimony. 

A temporary casualty was The Circus, upon which Dad, 
who had gone to New York on business, no longer had the 
heart to work. There was speculation that he might never 
finish the picture. He himself spoke of deserting Hollywood 
and the stout yellow house on the hill which he had intended 
for his pennancnt home. I le talked only of getting away from 
the scene of his disaster, of going to England for good. 

Then the government slapped more than a million dollars’ 
worth of liens on his properties for back income taxes. It 
came as an added shock to my father, who has always em- 
ployed others to compute his taxes for him. He was now in 
real difficulties and his contemplated avenue of escape was 
sealed to him. 

“Uncle Sam holds the only winning hand in this three- 
sided game,” a newspaper promptly reported. 

And still that divorce scandal kept ballooning up out of all 
proportion to its' importance. Irrational statements made in 
the heat of anger, and supposedly in confidence, were blaz- 
oned across the papers for everyone to see. It is not surprising 
that the bitterness on both sides increased until it looked as 
though it could never be bridged. 

My father even accused Nana of breaking up his home. 
“My wife’s mother is responsible for my misfortune. She 
caused the separation and now she wants me to give her 
daughter nearly everything 1 possess,” he was quoted as say- 
ing. “She will stop at nothing to attain her purpose.” 

But Nana would not believe that Dad meant what he was 
saying. She had always been on the closest of tenns with him. 
A short while before the separation. Dad had come into her 



bedroom one morning while she was still in bed. He walked 
over and sat down on the edge of it. 

“I want you to have something very beautiful,” he said to 
her. “You’ve been so wonderful. You’ve never never inter- 
fered in our lives.” 

Then he opened the little box he was holding, took out a 
magnificent diamond pin from Cartier’s and handed it to her. 
Nana was so touched she could scarcely thank him, and he 
bent over and kissed her on the check, as he usually did, and 
went away. 

“So much of it was the newspapers’ fault,” Nana says now, 
looking back. “They had to have copy, so the reporters 
would go to your father and say, ‘Lira said so and so.’ Then 
they would come to vour mother and sav, ‘Mr. Chaplin said 
so and so.’ And so it was built up and built up. It was awful.” 

Five months after Mother filed her complaint, Dad’s answer 
and cross-complaint made headlines along with Lindbergh’s 
historic hop to Paris. There w ere ninety-one pages to his docu- 
ment, excerpts of which were dul\' quoted along with Dad’s 
request for custody of Syd and me. It looked as though a bit- 
ter, sensational court fight was in the making; but it was a 
fight that failed to materialize. 

The divorce, which was granted on .August 2'., 1927, was 
headlined in the pajiers of the twenty-third, along with the 
fact that Sacco and Van/etti had been executed. Both of 
Mother’s pleas, for the divorce and for custody of Syd and me, 
were uncontested by my father, who did not even appear in 
court. To the disappointment of a cro^^■d of spectators, Los 
Angeles Superior Court judec Walter Guerin ruled that all 
sensational matters be deleted from the suit. My father, whose 
earning powers had been at zero since the separation, agreed 
to a property settlement for .Mother of six hundred and fifty 
thousand dollars, and he agreed as well to establish a two- 
hundrcd-thousand-dollar tnist fund for Syd and me. He also 
had to pay the costs of the trial, which some enterprising re- 
porter estimated at nine hundred and fifty thousand dollars. 


not inclusive of his own attorney’s fees. The whole procedure 
took far less than an hour, and with the final settlement the 
Chaplin divorce case disappeared from the newspapers for 

But the scars that Dad and Mother suffered from their un- 
happy marriage and divorce went far deeper than the public’s 
interest in their affairs. During the height of the worst pub- 
licity my father suffered a nervous breakdown in New York 
and had to spend almost two weeks in bed under a doctor’s 
care. Unable to retain any solid food, he was put on a liquid 
diet and his weight dropped from a hundred and thirty-five 
pounds to a hundred and eighteen. Reporters commented on 
his haggard appearance and subdued manner. 

Mother suffered two serious breakdowns in later years, and 
during the first all the bitterness of the marriage relived itself 
in terrifying fantasy. For a long time she could not bear class- 
ical music in general and would flee the room in anguish when 
she heard Wagner. Classical music reminded Mother too 
strongly of the nights she had spent with Dad at the Holly- 
wood Bowl concerts, and of my father himself, with his 
strange and somber depths which so frightened her because 
she could not understand them. As for Wagner, he has always 
been my father’s favorite composer. My mother heard his 
music so much during her unhappy marriage that she came 
to associate those rich, somber, often sensual strains with the 
melancholy futility of the years she had spent as Dad’s wife. 
To this day she prefers light modern music to the classics. 

But at the time of the divorce everything seemed equably 
settled and properly adjusted. Our father’s reputation had 
been only dented, after all, and he went back to work on The 
Circus with renewed energy. The bitter tensions of the di- 
vorce behind her, our mother, with Nana’s help, started draw- 
ing up plans for a beautiful home in Beverly Hills. Syd and I 
were amply provided for with our individual hundred- 
thousand-dollar trust funds, and would never have to worry 



about food or shelter or the necessities of life as our father 
had in his childhood. 

We were now living as quietly at our great-grandmother’s 
home in Beverly Hills as before we had lived in our father’s 
house. On January 24, 1928, five months after the divorce, 
Mother, who had been baptized a Catholic herself, had both 
Syd and me christened at the Church of the Good Shepherd 
in Beverly Hills. Father hadn’t wanted this while we lived 
with him. He believed that children should be free to pick 
their own religion when they wore old enough. But now all 
that life was gone, and we were starting from the beginning 
again. Everything was as if the life on the hill had never been. 

Syd and I had lavish attention because we were living in 
the very home of our doting great-grandmother. Actually, 
only one face among those we had learned to love and trust 
was missing. But surely we were too young to notice. Yet 
somehow something without a name came into my life at this 
time, making it impossible for me to start everything afresh 
even though I was so young. An apprehension had worked 
itself into my unconscious mind and lifted its head occa- 
sionally in dreams. It was then I began to wake up at night 
screaming. At the same time, my family discovered that when 
I went in the ocean I would break out in giant hives. 

1 ) 


The days, the weeks, the months went by without our father’s 
making a move to sec us, though that move would have en- 
tailed only a telephone call. Our father is a very stubborn 
man — perhaps that’s where Syd and 1 get our stubbornness. 
He was bitter as well — so bitter that he had apparently lost 
all interest in us. Our mother’s family had been hurt just as 
deeply and they were equally bitter. They didn’t care whether 
we ever saw our father again — except for Grandma Curry. 
She just couldn’t help feeling that whatever had happened 
between the grown folks, we shouldn’t be deprived of our 
father. She kept hoping he would phone to claim the visita- 
tion rights the court had granted him. 

Whether Dad gave any thought to us in those days I don’t 
know. He was engrossed in completing The Circus, so long 



delayed by his private troubles, and I doubt if he had much 
thought for anything else. Work on The Circus came to an 
end by the close of the year, and the picture opened in Janu- 
ary of 1928. It proved to be a great success at the box office 
and won Dad a special Academy award for 1927-28. The cita- 
tion reads, “For his versatility and genius in writing, acting, 
directing and producing The Circus. 

When Syd and I were older. Dad used to tell us about win- 
ning that Oscar. He said he hadn’t even gone to the banquet, 
the first of its kind, which was held on May 16, 1929, at the 
Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, so they had had to send his 
Oscar over to him. Dad said it was his opinion the whole in- 
stitution of Academy awards was foolish. 

“I don’t think it’s much of an honor when a small group of 
people decides I have the best picture,” he would say. “I want 
my acclaim from the public. If they like my work that’s re- 
ward enough for me.” 

He told us that in the beginning he had valued his Oscar 
so little that he used it for a doorstop. Bur ever since T can 
remember he has kept it on a high shelf with a bust of him- 
self and his treasured Dresden and Staffordslure figurines. 
Even in Vevey, Switzerland, where he now lives, 1 saw it still 
occupying this place of honor. So perhaps his opinion of the 
Academy awards has improved with the years. 

A very shon while after my father finished The Circus he 
plunged into preparing 'his script for City Lights. But on the 
eve of production a major crisis hit the motion-picture in- 
dustry. Nineteen twenty-eight was a historic year for Hol- 
lywood. Talkies had passed through the experimental stage 
and were now emerging as a commercial reality. Producers 
had to install new equipment, discard old techniques, put 
dialogue as well as plot and scenery in their stories, and find 
actors with good speaking voices to play in these pictures. 
This was a period of eclipse for many stars high in public 
favor, while unknowns with good speaking voices quickly 
rose to prominence. 

Dad had a good voice, had used it on stage for both sing- 


ing and acring parts. But he was uncertain about how it would 
go over on the screen. And he wasn’t convinced of the artistic 
quality of the new medium, feeling that it brought too much 
realism into a make-believe world. He closed down produc- 
tion to mull over his problem. Only other producers of the 
time could know what anxiety he experienced in those days 
of indecision. He was chiefly concerned that the Little Tramp, 
through whom he had been able to express so many of his 
inner feelings and whose chief appeal rested on pantomime, 
might be destroyed by talkies. It was as though throughout 
that long spring and summer he were contemplating the death 
of a very dear though imaginary relative — his alter ego. 

There were two real deaths in our family that year. Great- 
grandfather Curry died April 2, 1928, and Grandmother 
Chaplin died August 28, with my father at her bedside. 
Friends say that Grandmother Chaplin’s death threw Dad 
into a melancholy state of mind for weeks. 

By this time he had decided that CAty Lights should be a 
silent picture. I know he explained to some people that his 
decision was influenced by purely commercial reasons. The 
Little Tramp, with his universal language of pantomime, had 
become popular the world over; to limit him to the English 
tongue would reduce his market by millions of potential cus- 
tomers. But knowing my father. I’m sure there was a deeper 
reason than this for his decision. He simply could not make 
the move that might destroy the Little Tramp. City Lights 
was my father’s signed reprieve. 

What that decision cost him in emotional turmoil I can 
only guess. He drove his crews day and night, shooting thou- 
sands of feet of film — most of it to be discarded. He drove 
himself along with the crew, thinking no more of his own 
health than that of others. He was so run-down that in the 
early spring of 1929 a severe attack of ptomaine poisoning 
went into intestinal flu and ended in a close brush with pneu- 
monia. He had to stop production and close down the studio 
for a week or sc until he recuperated. 



It was sometime that spring, after Dad had recovered from 
his illness and was back at work again, that Great-grandmother 
Curry decided to take matters into her own hands. Nana had 
left on a trip with Mother, and now that Great-grandfather 
Curry had passed away Grandma had no one to interfere with 
her. One day, almost two years after the divorce, she picked 
up the phone and asked Dad if he didn’t want us to visit him. 

Our father didn’t hesitate. He told Grandma to bring us 
up at once. He was amazed to see us. We were no longer the 
babies who had been such an enigma to him. We were three- 
and four-year-old boys who walked and talked freely, not 
only in English but in Spanish, for Grandma Curr)% who 
wanted us to know her native tongue, had hired a full-time 
Spanish maid to take care of us. Dad, who could speak only a 
few phrases of Spanish himself, was highly amused to hear us 
prattling away so fluently in a foreign tongue. 

That first visit of ours broke the ice. After that Dad phoned 
Grandma often to tell her he would like to pick us up and 
take us to the studio with him. He delighted in showing us 
off to everyone. He was very proud of us. 

I’m sure it was more than pride with Dad, that Syd and I 
helped to fill some emptiness in his life. My father is so re- 
served that often it’s difficult to know what he’s thinking or 
feeling. But sometimes he gives himself away in his sentimental 
gestures, such as his keeping the large picture of Syd and 
me in a place of honor on the piano in his living room. When 
Syd and I grew older we would have preferred to have our 
father exchange that picture for a more up-to-date portrait, 
because everyone said we looked like little girls, but Dad stub- 
bornly clung to it. 

When Nana and Mother returned from their trip, the re- 
lationship between Dad and us had been firmly established. 
Nana now took over the chore of driving us to Dad’s place or 
getting us ready for him to pick up whenever he pleased. 
Nana never went in to see our father when she brought us 
to him. There was still the wall of separation between them 



and it was even mixed with some fear on Nana’s part. In the 
past, in his bitter anger, my father had at times made vague 
but ominous threats — or at least it had seemed so to Nana, 
who is a rather timid person. She would leave us at the front 
gate with the servants and either wait for us or come back 
later. But one day shortly after Nana had turned us over to 
the servants we came running out again, hair flying, breathless 
with excitement. 

“Nana, Nana,” we called, “Daddy wants to see you. He 
said to come in.” 

Slowly Nana got out of the car, and with us tugging at her 
hands went up to the front door. It had been a long while 
since she had last gone inside the big house. Our father was 
waiting for her in the vestibule, somewhat aloof but friendly. 
He put out his hand. Nana took it. 

“1 wanted to tell you what wonderful boys they are,” he 
exclaimed. “You’ve brought them up w'ith such good manners 
I’m proud of them.” It was his way of making the first over- 

After that Nana went in with us every time we visited Dad. 
While she hovered in the background Syd and I would tun 
up and kiss him on the cheek. Dad w'as shy about our kisses, 
about admitting how much he liked them, but we could see 
that he was truly pleased. Dad loves affection, even though 
he’s so reserved about giving it. Syd and I have always been 
more outgoing. Even now that w'e’re grown men we still kiss 
our father whenever we visit him. And he still reacts in the 
same embarrassed but pleased way. Shyly he’ll kiss us back, 
or pat us on the shoulder. It w'asn’t long before he and Nana 
were kissing each other on the cheek too, just as they had 
when he and Mother were still married. 

Syd and I soon discovered our father was completely dif- 
ferent from all the other fathers we had ever seen. No one 
had such a funny father as ours. All the time we were with 
him he kept us laughing. We learned later that it didn’t matter 



to him whether he had a big audience or just two small boys. 
If he felt like entertaining and the audience was friendly, there 
was no limit to what he would do for a laugh. 

He used to go through the Little Tramp routines for us— 
a pathetic shuffle of the feet, a quick kick and a prat fall. He 
always executed those usually clumsy movements with such 
grace that there was an air of ballet about them. 

“Have you seen the way a chicken walks?” he would .say 
every now and then out of the blue, and he would strut 
around, flapping his wings and cackling. It was the bit he 
did in full chicken regalia — head, feathers, talons — for a se- 
quence in The Gold Rush. But he really didn’t need that cos- 
tume. His perfonnance was realistic without it. 

At our father’s studio Syd and 1 found a land of real make- 
believe. In his dressing room we watched him turning into the 
Little Tramp before our eves. First he would get out the big 
sheet of black crepe hair which provided him with innumer- 
able little mustaches. He’d cut one out, glue it on carefully 
and trim it down to size. Then he’d turn around and give Syd 
and me a cocky smirk. 

“Well, what do you think of your father now?” he’d ask. 

And he would start screwing his face into all sorts of grim- 
aces. Next he would climb into the baggy pants, and after 
that on would go the oversize shoes. He would take a few 
turns around the room, shuffling about on those ridiculous 
shoes. We didn’t realize at the time that he was working him- 
self into character. We just sat fascinated while he kept up 
a continual line of patter. 

“Of course,” he’d nin on, “you know why the Little Fellow 
has to walk with his feet out. Because the shoes are too long 
and he couldn’t walk lifting his knees up all the time. He’d 
bump into him.self. So, boys, that’s the way we have to walk." 

While Dad was keeping up this chatter he was shrugging 
into his tight-fitting coat, clapping the too-small derby on his 
head, twirling the cane. Svd and 1 couldn’t help laughing. At 
every peal of merriment the Little Tramp would get a jauntier 



set to his shoulders. And there he was at last completely in 
character. He seemed altogether different in his Little Tramp 
outfit, less reserved, more assured, more a child like ourselves. 

Our father was just as fascinating to us out on the set. While 
the camera ground with its whirring rhythm and the hot lights 
beat down, he would perform against a background of other 
people. You always noticed him most. He was funny. Peo- 
ple around the set laughed. Syd and I always laughed. When 
people laughed he seemed to get an even cockier tilt to his 
head. His eyes sparkled. He was obviously having fun. 

And this was our father’s work. It seemed more like play to 
Syd and me. People said that it was acting and that our father 
was an actor. Since we weren’t at an age to see movies, it 
never occurred to us that what our father did all day ever got 
beyond the sets in his studio. Yet we knew he was important 
in some way. We were made aware of that whenever we went 
out in public with him. 

One of our father’s simpler pastimes was to stroll down 
Hollywood Boulevard, and sometimes he would take us with 
him. We would all just walk along, relaxing, window shop- 
ping, face shopping. Our father always liked to look at faces 
and study mannerisms on our strolls. Sometimes he tried to 
hide his identity behind dark glasses. But even then it wasn’t 
long before he was recognized. 

“Charlie Chaplin!” someone would exclaim. “Charlie Chap- 
lin and his sons! ” And a crowd would quickly gather, thrust- 
ing their autograph books at Dad. Dad would start obligingly 
signing them, but after a while he would wave the rest away. 

“I’m tired now and I want to go home,” he would say. 
“Please send them to the snidio.” 

Then, taking our hands. Dad would hurry us along very 
fast to where the car was waiting to whisk us back up to the 

“As you can see, boys, I’m quite some fellow,” he would 
say, half laughing, pleased with the afternoon. “Oh, very im- 
portant indeed!” 



He was important and he was an actor, whatever that was, 
and we loved him, Syd and I. We loved this pixie father who 
had such a jaunty way about him. We wanted to be with him. 
But there were long periods when he didn’t call up, when he 
didn’t come around for us. 

We used to look at the picture we kept of him in our bed- 
room and wonder when he’d send for us again. We couldn’t 
just go to him when we pleased because the world belonged 
to grownups and you had to do as they wished. I became re- 
signed to that early. I found it was easier that way. Syd was 
different. I le was always ready to tackle them, even though he 
knew each time that he would go down in defeat. 

“I’m going to be an actor when I grow up,” Syd said. 

I understood what he meant. He was going to take that 
whole fairy world for himself one day, so he wouldn’t have 
to wait to be invited into it. I thought over the idea a minute. 
It looked good. 

“Me too,” I agreed. 


In February, 1931, after the New York premiere of City 
Lights, Dad left for an extended trip around the world. But he 
wasn’t to be the only traveler in the Chaplin family. It hail 
been decided that Syd and I, who were five and si.\ at the 
time, should make a long trip ourselves. Mother, who had 
been sightseeing in Europe the year before, thought it would 
be nice for us to spend some time in France and learn another 
language while we were small. Nana was to take us. 

By this time Syd and I had discovered that our father had 
a sure formula for getting attention. We had only to imitate 
him as the Little Tramp to be greeted everywhere with ap- 
plause and laughter. But we weren’t yet aware of his true 
stature in the outside world. That was brought home to us the 



day we boarded the lie de France in New York Harbor. Just 
before sailing time a swarm of newspapermen scrambled 
aboard to talk to us. There must have been about twenty 
photographers with shutters clicking and flash bulbs popping, 
recording the momentous fact that the Chaplin boys were 
going to Europe. 

When we landed in France we received the same jubilant 
reception. Perhaps it was even more enthusiastic, because our 
father, known to Frenchmen as Chariot, has always been ex- 
tremely popular there. 

“So you’re the Chaplin boys,” people would say to us in 
awed tones. “Do you know what a famous actor your father 
is? You should be proud to be the sons of the great Chariot.” 

Everyone seemed U) know him. Everyone idolized him. 
Everyone lavished attention on us because we were his sons. 
Before it was all over we even appeared on a radio program. 
We sang songs in both French and English and answered 
questions about our father like authorities. Dad had always 
been just a vcr\' funny man to us. But now, limned in this 
constant spotlight, he seemed to swell into an almost legendary 
figure before our eves. 

We spent most of our year abroad at Nice, where Nana’s 
boy friend was also staying. He was a millionaire bv the name 
of Victor Brcsler and he was in love w ith Nana and wanted 
to marry her, but Nana turned him down to devote herself 
to us. 1 have always been grateful to her for her sacrifice. 
I low could Syd and I ever have gotten along wnrhout her! 

France to me was like a great fairy land. 1 remember it as a 
montage of colorful scenes — the wonderful sights which Mr. 
Bresler showed us, the lox elv parks where wc rolled hoops 
and gleefully dodged the photographers who seemed to be al- 
ways after us, the gay Gallic children who were our com- 
panions. .At first wc were at a loss, fi)r we couldn’t speak their 
language; but presentK' we were forgetting the Spanish we 
knew and jabbering away in colloquial French. 



Somewhere there in sunny France the nocturnal terror dis- 
appeared and I no longer woke up screaming at night. Nana 
said I had outgrown it. 

Meanwhile our father, on his trip around the world, was 
proving his popularity all over again. He was greeted by enor- 
mous crowds in England, Germany, Italy, France and later 
Japan. He met such political figures as Ramsay MacDonald 
and Lloyd George. He renewed acquaintance with Winston 
Churchill and Albert Einstein and, in the literary field, with 
George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, Frank Harris and Emil 
Ludwig. He met kings, princes, dukes and Mahatma Gandhi. 
He learned to ski with Douglas Fairbanks at St. Moritz and 
sailed with Uncle Sydney to the Orient, visiting Ceylon, Sing- 
apore and Bali and ending up in Japan, where he was received 
like royalty. 

In Japan he experienced some real adventure. Members of 
the Black Dragon Society, an old-fashioned clique which 
wanted to keep Japan in her medieval state, assassinated the 
Prime Minister, Tsuyoshi Inukai, while my father was there. 
My father told me in later years that the clique hared him, 
too, because they thought his popularity with the Japanese 
people was bringing about a more sympathetic attitude to the 
West. His life had actually been in danger. Police were or- 
dered to keep guard over him, and he had to change hotels 
once to throw his would-be assassins off the track. Shortly 
after his departure from the first hotel two members of the 
society were caught there — looking for him and bent on 

Finally, after an absence of fifteen months, our father re- 
turned to America. Almost every incident that had befallen 
him during his long tour had been reported in the papers, 
and since we were his sons what little that happened to us had 
also made news. But it was always just a reflection of his glory. 
Now, a year after we had come to France, something sud- 
denly occurred that made us feel we were soon to be celebri- 



ties in our own right. It was in the form of a cablegram to 
Nana from Mother. 

David Butler, the director, was interested in doing a picture 
with us and we were to come home at once. We packed ex- 
citedly, and I recall how, on the boat back, Syd and I en- 
thusiastically discussed our coming careers. When we reached 
New York there was a still greater hullabaloo. We were in- 
terviewed by reporters and they weren’t asking about our 
father. They wanted to know all about us. 

“I am going to be a great actor,” I told them solemnly. 

I was bragging, perhaps. But it wasn’t just bragging. I was 
thinking about a man who was the greatest comedian in the 
world. I was his son with his name. So I had to be good. More 
than anything else in the world 1 wanted him to be proud 
of me. 

Mother accompanied us back from New York to Holly- 
wood, and one night shortly afterwards Mr. Butler came over 
to the house for dinner and the contract was signed. Mean- 
while Nana phoned Dad, who had just returned himself, and 
asked him if he wanted to see us. Of course he did, he told 
her, so Nana took us to him at once. 

We were back in the big house on the hill with our father, 
whom we hadn’t seen for almost a year and a half. Diffidently 
we went up and kissed him. Then he smiled and put his arms 
around us. He seldom made the first affectionate move, and if 
he did it was usually a fonnal gesture — as though he were 
afraid of giving too much of himself and being rebuffed. 

“Can you speak French, boys?” he asked almost at once. 

He was always so interested in the things that Syd and I 
learned, so proud of us when wc mastered anything in the 
educational field. We talked in French for him and he laughed 
as though it were something special. To Syd and me it was 
nothing. Millions of other children spoke French daily. But 
we were about to do truly big things. 

“We’re going to be great actors like you,” we bragged. 

We expected him to be pleased. Instead he looked strangely 

5 * 


grave and didn’t even comment on our acting plans. Un- 
known to us, our father had already voiced his disapproval 
of our going into pictures. But Mother didn’t think he would 
actually interfere. After all, he came from a family of actors 
and had appeared on the stages of music halls at an early age 
himself. It was natural for his children to follow in his foot- 
steps. It was in the blood. 

Perhaps it was just because our father had been a child 
actor and remembered too painfully the warping of his own 
childhood under the demands of a difficult profession that he 
was dead serious about keeping Syd and me out of pictures. 
When he learned that the deal was set and the contract signed 
he asked his lawyers to take the case to court. It proved to 
be another legal battle between him and Alothcr, or rather 
between their attorneys. The newspapers got hold of the story 
and blew it up. Everyone who could read knew about the 
fight — everyone except Syd and me. 

Our father’s argument against our being in pictures was 
an impressive one to the court. He was, he said through his 
lawyers, interested only in our happiness and well-being. He 
wanted us to have a nonnal childhood. He was afraid that en- 
tering show business so early would interfere with our edu- 
cation. The judge was in agreement and decided in our fatlier’s 
favor. The contract was nullified. 

When Syd and I were told we weren’t to make a picture 
after all, the disappointment was so great that we broke into 
tears. Later, up on the hill. Dad tried to explain his reason for 
breaking the contract. 

“If you’re really in earnest about wanting to act, going 
into it now would be the worst thing in the world for you, 
boys,” he said. “You’d be typed as child actors. When you 
reached the gawky stage they’d drop you. Then you would 
have to make a complete comeback and you’d have a hard 
time of it, because everyone would remember you as those 
cute little juveniles. But if after you’re grown up you still 
want to act, then I won’t interfere.” 



Today, when I sec the rough time former child stars like 
Jackie Coogan have had in making a comeback, I realize my 
father’s wisdom. But then his explanations didn’t make much 
sense to Syd or me. What did he mean when he told us we 
should wait until we were grown up? Shirley Temple, whom 
we were soon to number among our playmates, was even 
younger than we — only three years old and yet she was start- 
ing on her career. We could have been, too, if our father 
hadn’t stopped it all, we told each other resentfully. 


But life doesn’t move always on the downbeat. We had lost 
our careers before they had even started, but at the same time 
a compensation came into our lives that was pleasurably to 
affect all our boyhood. 

Paulette Goddard! She was number five or so in the list of 
leading ladies my father’s wizardry had raised to prominence 
throughout the years. Edna Purviance, Georgia Hale, Merna 
Kennedy, Virginia Cherrill, they had all glowed for a spell 
under his tutelage. Paulette was the only one of them who re- 
mained as well known after she left my father. 

Dad first met her when they were both guests on a yacht- 
ing party given by Joseph M. Schenck, the producer. She was 
then a chorus girl under contract to Hal Roach, where she 



was doing quickie comedies to get experience before the 

My father, on the other hand, was one of the most prom- 
inent and popular figures in Hollywood. At the time he 
met Paulette there was gossip that he had more than a passing 
interest in Marion Davies. He was a frequent guest at her 
beach home. Her wit amused him and he admired her courage 
and her spirit of independence and her generosity. But though 
Miss Davies had so many qualities that appealed to my father, 
she lacked the most important one in his eyes. She didn’t need 
him. She was at the time already a success in pictures. 

Paulette, on the other hand, was still an unknown. From 
the very beginning her life had been hard. Her father and 
mother separated when she was very small and her mother 
had to go to work to support them both. At the age of four- 
teen Paulette became a Ziegfeld Follies girl and from then on 
she was the breadwinner of the family. At sixteen she mar- 
ried Edgar James, from whom she was divorced in Reno in 
1931. Dad told me later that she was only twenty-one when 
he met her the following year. He found her a delightful 
person who seemed to be always laughing. 

My father has an intuitive feeling toward people. He rec- 
ognizes the intrinsic qualities that lie at the core of their per- 
sonalities. In Paulette he didn’t see just another run-of-the-mill 
chorine. He saw a girl with a great spirit of independence 
and courage, a girl who dared show an impudent pluck in 
the face of adversity. 

She had all the qualities he needed for the gamin-like char- 
acter who was to be the heroine in his next picture, Modern 
Times, the script of which he was then preparing. The story 
was to be a satire on the machine age, and he had been led 
to do it by the depression, which had shocked him deeply 
when he returned from his trip abroad to find millions idle 
in a land overflowing with plenty. He had already traced his 
heroine in vague outline, but before she could take concrete 
form he had to find the right person to play the part. Much 


of my father’s success in being able to get good performances 
out of the girls he chose was due to his writing the parts with 
them in mind. 

Almost immediately after my father’s meeting with Paul- 
ette the girl in Modern Times began to emerge with her 
flesh-and-blood lineaments. At the same time he bought up 
her contract from Hal Roach and took her completely under 
his wing. He became her mentor. Dad is a born teacher at 
heart — teaching others is one more wav of satisfying his ego. 

He found Paulette an apt pupil. She read the books he 
suggested and many others besides, because she was as avid 
for education as he. She was the first of his wives who, despite 
her youth, was mature intellectually. She was able to talk with 
him on his level. It made for a closer companionship between 

Paulette studied hard under the singing and dancing in- 
structors my father provided for her, and sopped up all his 
dramatic coaching. She even followed his advice in the selec- 
tion of her clothes. But most important of all to her, inasmuch 
as she was an unknown, my father began to take her every- 
where with him, dating her almost exclusively. 

Newspapers around the world had a field day over that. 
From the first, they began predicting an early marriage for 
Paulette and my father. When he kissed her at the aiqwrt as 
she set off for a trip to New York in the fall of ’32 it was 
grounds for open speculation. The speculation increased by 
the spring of 1933. That summer, a French newspaper came 
out with a “scoop” that Dad and Paulette had been married 
at sea. 

When Dad bought his yacht, the Panacea, and started 
having it remodeled, newspaper accounts referred to it as the 
“honeymoon” yacht. In April of ’34 the steady flow of rumors 
solidified into another “definite” story that my father and 
Paulette had been married aboard the Panacea by Captain 
Dave Anderson, the skipper, who had subsequently been paid 
by Dad — for reasons known only to him and Paulette — to 



tear the telltale page out of his log book. This fantastic story 
was repeated with variations all through the summer. In the 
fall of ’34, when Paulette, to tease the newspapermen, began 
to wear a wedding band set with diamonds, a new twist was 
added to the old story. My father, so the story went now, had 
obtained the marriage license in London under the name of 
Spencer for himself and Mrs. Edgar James for Paulette. In 
February of ’35, reporters bared the gossip that my father 
himself, at a recent party, had admitted a secret marriage to 
Paulette more than a year before. And in November of ’36 
no less a person than Randolph Churchill said solemnly, “I am 
not at liberty to quote Mr. Chaplin directly but I can defi- 
nitely say that they are married. They have been married for 
more than a year.” 

To all these rumors both my father and Paulette replied 
with a discreet silence that only ballooned the subject up out 
of all proportion to its importance. I think my father, with 
his quixotic sense of humor, got a lot of amusement out of the 
flurry he and Paulette were causing. Perhaps he’d come to 
the conclusion that since he was to live in a fish bowl anyway 
he might as well have some fun at it. As for Paulette, she’s 
always been a pixie — but a pixie with a purpose, too. 

“If you don’t admit or deny a story it keeps going and 
going,” she told me once. “The minute you affirm or deny 
it — then it’s dead, and I’m not so stupid as to do that.” 

Paulette was the unknown and mv father was the known. 
As long as her name could be kept linked to his in a frantic 
guessing game she could count on appearing frequently in the 
papers. It was valuable publicity for her. 

I remember the day Syd and I first met Paulette. It is as 
plain to me as though it had happened only yesterday, instead 
of more than a quarter-centurj'^ ago. Our father brought her 
to the where we were living with Nana and Grandma 
to introduce her to us and pick us up for an afternoon with 
him. He jumped out of the car, came around, opened the 



door and helped out a beautiful platinum blonde. Syd and I, 
who were waiting side by side on the porch, were so thunder- 
struck wc could only stare. I Icr pale, shining hair framed a 
piquant heart-shaped face alive with sparkling blue-green 
eyes. As she came up to Syd and me, our father introduced us. 

“ are my sons, Charlc.s, Jr., and Sidney,” he said 
gravely. And then, turning to us, he added, “ This is Paulette 
Goddard, boys. Now what do v'oii .say to the nice lady?” 

Syd and I lifted our heads and looked into that friendly 
face with its mischievous conspiratorial smile, and we lost our 
hearts at once, never to regain them through all the golden 
years of our childhood. Have you ever realized, Paulette, how 
much you meant to us? You were like a mother, a sister, a 
friend all in one. You lightened our father’s spells of somber 
moodiness and you turned the big house on the hill into a real 
home. We thought you were the loveliest creature in the 
whole world. And somehow 1 feel, looking back today, that 
we meant as much to you, that we satisfied some need in 
your life, too. 


The year 1933 marked the third and last of the legal battles 
between our parents, and it was over money. Syd’s and my 
trust funds were handled by the Citizens National Bank, 
wliich invested them in stock. Our mother, who was our 
legal guardian, had full control of the monthly revenues, but 
she was expected to send our father an itemized monthly re- 
port of all expenses. 1 can well imagine w’hat anguish keeping 
those accounts must have been to my mother, who, like me, 
isn’t good at figures. 

After the tangle she had with Dad over the movie contract, 
it suddenly occurred to her that he might one day call her to 
account for her expenditures on us. It was then that she hired 
a bonded CPA, Mrs. Julia Bergh, to take care of our business 



affairs. I remember Mrs. Bergh in her makeshift office on an 
upper landing in our home on Rossmore Avenue. There she 
would be behind her desk, her fingers flying over the type- 
writer keys as at the end of the month she knocked out page 
after page of items. The lists included even the most insignifi- 
cant expenditures, from a haircut for Syd at $2.50 to the re- 
moval of a wart from one of my fingers at $5.00. 

Month after month our father, carefully going over all 
these lists, began to feel a growing alarm at the amount of 
money being spent on us. His concern was based on a belief 
that money is about the most important security in the life of 
any individual, and he thought that as much of ours as pos- 
sible should be laid away for our future. 

My mother says today that she wishes Dad had come to 
her privately with his proposal to put a quarter of each of our 
monthly incomes in an irrevocable savings account, to be 
made available to us on our twenty-first birthdays. She would 
have seen the wisdom in it and agreed with him, and all the 
subsequent court hassle could have been avoided. 

But my father, who had made up with Nana and was seeing 
us regularly, must have still felt some sense of estrangement 
toward my mother, because apparently it never entered his 
head to speak to her directly. Instead he called in his attorneys 
and put the matter in their hands. And there it was all over 
again — the public wrangling for the newspapers to pick up. 

My father didn’t go to court throughout the whole hearing. 
My mother made an appearance to testify and became hys- 
terical. There on the witness stand she expressed the feeling of 
being relentlessly pursued, persecuted and hounded by my 
father. I suppose even then tensions were building danger- 
ously in the hidden places of her psyche. For her conviction 
that my father had sinister motives toward her was to become 
magnified a thousandfold when she suffered her nervous 
breakdown a few years later. 

The court battle died out quietly when the judge decided 
in favor of my father’s proposal, and at the same time gave 



Mother a moral victory by releasing her from those onerous 
monthly reports which had been such a burden to her. When 
our twenty-first birthdays came around, Sydney and I were 
both grateful to our father’s wisdom, for we realized seven- 
teen thousand dollars apiece from the savings accounts. But I 
cannot say we did not suffer at the time from the emotional 
tension of our contending parents. 

An even more disturbing influence in our lives at that time 
was the aftermath of a tragedy which affected not only us 
but the children of prominent people everywhere. The day 
after the newspapers carried the story of the kidnaping of the 
Lindbergh baby, workmen came to equip all the windows of 
our house on Rossmore Avenue with burglar alarms. But our 
family didn’t think the alarms were enough for our bedroom. 
We also had to sleep with the windows closed all night long. 
On hot evenings when we tossed and turned with our covers 
thrown back, our bodies flushed and sweaty with heat, we 
wondered what it was all about. It didn’t make sense. 

Then one night the screen of one of the windows was cut 
and the burglar alarm went off. In seconds the house was in a 
turmoil. All the lights flashed on and the police were called. 
Syd and I ran through the rooms, staring at the cut screen 
and the big uniformed policemen. From all the speculation 
that was going on we learned that whoever it was had been 
after us and that it was a real cops-and-robbers game. We 
were excited and childishly proud to be the center of so much 

It was only later, after the bustle had died down and the 
officers in their dark uniforms had gone away, that we saw 
the gravity on the faces of the grownups and began to feel a 
vague fear for the first time. After that, as long as we stayed 
in that house on Rossmore, the fear was always with us. 

For the first weeks after the scare we weren’t allowed out- 
side. Finally this ban was lifted, but we were no longer per- 
mitted even to step out the front door without an adult. And 



of course the homes of our friends were now off limits to us. 
If they wanted to see us they had to come to our house. Nana 
took us to our private day school and brought us home again. 
She escorted us to parties, even if they were in the neighbor- 
hood. We knew just one other person who was supervised as 
closely as we — Shirley Temple, who always invited us to her 
parties. By this time she was an established film celebrity, 
having left us far behind. 

But Shirley was a girl, while Syd and I were seven- and 
eight-year-old boys — too old, we felt, to be supervised like 
kindergarteners. It was with a feeling of relief that we learned 
in the fall that we were to go away to boarding school the 
next January. 

Boarding school was our father’s idea. lie felt we were sur- 
rounded by too many women. Counting Mrs. Bergh and our 
governess, there were five of them in all — an overwhelming 
number to my father, whose experiences with the opposite sex 
so far had made him somewhat wary of it in general. I le sent 
Mother a list of schools of which he approved and asked her 
to pick one for us. Mother and Nana decided on Black-Foxe 
Military Institute. It was in Hollywood, so that it would be 
easy for us to come home on week ends. A number of chil- 
dren of prominent movie people went there, and, though 
Nana wasn’t so sure about it, Alother felt the military training 
would be good for us. She notified our father of her choice 
and he expressed his satisfaction with it. I don’t suppose he 
ever thought — either then or later — of how inconsistent it 
was for him, who had always voiced such a strong objection 
to war, to be sending his sons to a military academy. 

It was a crisp January morning when we set out for our 
new school, jubilant over the prospects before us. But the 
minute I walked inside the gates with Syd and Nana, who 
had driven us over, I felt something was wrong. The sinking 
feeling increased with every step forward. It reached its 
climax when I said good-by to Nana, and found myself sep- 



aratcd even from Syd. All our lives we had shared a room, 
and now for the first time we were not to be together. I had 
quarters, instead, with two young strangers. Our room was 
small and unpretentious, the beds narrow but comfortable. 
We shared a bathroom with the boys in the bedroom on the 
other side. Everything seemed somehow empty and bare. 

1 burst into tears. The school nurse, who had accompanied 
me to my room, must have been used to such exhibitions. She 
tried to comfort me. 

“Everything will be all right. You’ll get used to it and 
then you’ll like it,” she said. 

It took me three weeks to “get used to it.” I cried on and 
off, quietly, where no one could see or hear me. Once I 
walked in my sleep, and so did Syd. 'I'he nurse told Nana 
that was natural to newcomers. 

The worst thing about the school in my eyes was the strict 
regimentation. From sunup to sundown everything seemed as 
carefully ordered as if you were a pawn on a chessboard. 

There were penalties if you broke the rules. Whispering in 
class might result in a painful feruling on the palm of your 
hand. Talking in line could cam a visit to the physical in- 
structor’s office, and a paddling. I’d been paddled at home by 
Nana with a slipper, but that was different. When Nana 
spanked me I felt hurt mostly because I loved her and didn’t 
want her disappointed in me. But a spanking at school was 
such an impersonal thing I felt both resentful and humiliated 
— humiliated because I was so much smaller 1 never had a 
chance to fight back or even ro talk back. A really serious 
offense might bring you to the office of the headmaster, where 
something worse than a feruling or a paddling awaited you. 
Then you ran the danger of having a letter sent home to your 

In those early days at school, life seemed something like 
running the gantlet, with a bunch of grownup ogres ready to 
pounce on you for the least offense. It was a far cry from the 
feminine love and justice we had known at home. Though I 



didn’t share a room with Syd, I saw him often and learned 
from him that he hated everything as much as I, 

It’s easy to imagine how Friday affected not only Syd and 
me but the whole school. It was a red-letter day. On Friday 
we paraded in front of an audience made up of relatives and 
friends, and showed off what we had learned during our 
week’s drill. 

Nana came every Friday to watch the parade. Mother came 
occasionally, and Dad only a few times. He was always re- 
served, as he is with strangers. He didn’t make a point of 
visiting the teachers as the other parents did, or mixing with 
the parents themselves — not even Nana. Was it because the 
sight of that well-ordered school with its attractive buildings 
and spacious grounds brought vividly to mind the dingy 
orphanage where he had spent two years of his life? And did 
the memory tic his tongue again with the restrictive politeness 
drilled into the children of the poor? 

One day, though, my father made his way through the 
spectators to Nana’s side. 

“You know, as we grow older we mellow,’’ he said sud- 
denly, out of the fullness of an emotion Nana could never 
comprehend. “Time takes care of a lot of things. I’m sure 
everything’s goir^ to be all right between us from now on.” 

And it was. Those words were the seal to the last bitterness 
between mv father and mother. There were no more court 
battles and no pulling at cross-purposes over our welfare. 

I remember our father those few times he came. I can sec 
him plainly yet, standing with his hands behind his back, his 
blue eyes bright with amusement, and a pleased, almost gloat- 
ing expression about his lips. Perhaps he was feeling a kind of 
amazement and pride that he was able to provide his sons 
with such a well-ordered, sheltered life. 

Yet there was something more than that in his face, some- 
thing that struck home to me and filled me with yearning. 
Was it the essential loneliness that I sensed in him, and wanted 
somehow to erase? I know only that I marched straighter. 



that 1 was more alert, that 1 saluted with a snappier gesture 
and clicked my heels more sharply when I saw those ice-blue 
eyes upon me. 

Those Friday afternoons were more valued by us boys at 
Black-Foxe than any other day in our school week, for if our 
deportment had been exemplary we all got to go home for the 
week end. Usually Syd and I spent one week end with Nana 
and Mother and the next with Dad on the hill, for now that 
we were in military school we were considered old enough 
to stay the whole week end with him. 

Oh those wonderful week ends! That wonderful magical 
house on the hill, with the man who lived there, the man who 
was so many men in one. We were to see them all now: the 
strict disciplinarian, the priceless entertainer, the taciturn, 
moody dreamer, the wild man of Borneo with his flashes of 
volcanic temper. That beloved chameleon shape was to weave 
itself subtly through all my boyhood and was never to stop 
fascinating me 


And now it is time to speak of those nostalgic years in my 
father’s home, where for almost two decades Syd and 1 were 
part of a domestic life heretofore unchroniclcd. 1 cannot go 
by the old house today without a feeling of loss over some- 
thing good that has gone out of my life forever. I'im Dur- 
ant, my father’s closest friend in those years, tells me he, too, 
has this same depressing feeling. That house where my father, 
like royalty, used to entertain his gue.sts when he was at the 
height of his popularity and power seems only a forlorn 
shell now, a symbol of the old days that have gone from the 
film capital and will not come back again. Modern picture 
making has lost much of the creative luster which character- 
ized its beginnings; it has become less play and more a staid, 
respectable business. 



The six and a half acres of my father’s small estate in which 
he so delighted and which was so unassuming in comparison 
v/ith those of our neighbors, Harold Lloyd’s below, Pickfair 
above, arc evaporating. Many of the trees my father planted 
on his hill slopes have been whacked away. Much of the 
ground has been leveled and subdivided and new building is 
in progress today. On the site of the tennis court which my 
father so loved and upon which he spent so many happy 
hours, stands an alien house. 

Over this mutilated property broods our old home. The 
new owners are completely remodeling its interior, which has 
already passed through two epochs of alteration — one under 
Paulette and one under Oona O’Neill. The exterior has been 
repainted — shocking renovation! For as long as it was in my 
father’s possession I can’t remember his ever having the aged 
ochre stain rejuvenated, though he may have had the walls 
cleaned or washed occasionally. Capped by a tile roof, the 
great pile now stands there ahnost naked, like a staunch be- 
trayed fortress, its walls stripped of their canopy of tall trees 
which my father had planted around it so that you could 
hear the sighing and the tapping of the branches at almost 
every window. 

Looking at the place that today seems so melancholy to me, 
I seem to hear my father saying, “I love this house. I’d never 
live anyw here else but right here. What more do you want^” 

My father’s woods surrounded the house on three sides. Fir, 
hemlock, cedar, spruce and pine, they marched down the 
slopes of the hill. Narrow^ dirt paths lined by uneven stones 
and seemingly laid at random meandered among the trees. 
Dad especially loved to w^alk in his w'oods after a rain, when 
the odor of pine and fire w’as strong in the air. 

On the fourth side the lawm slopes aw^ay in steep giant 
steps to tlie tennis court and sw imming pool. Sometimes, after 
the pool had been drained. Dad enjoyed going dowm into it 
and turning on the water. This was one of the few^ domestic 
chores I have ever seen him perform, for he is not a handy 



The front of the house faces a circular driveway so that 
cars can stop at the main entrance. Inside, you find yourself 
in a spacious hall, which extends down the full length of the 
house and which in those early days was two stories high 
for most of its length. It was as though my father wanted to 
keep the walls from ever crowding in on him again. 

Toward the front of the hall a winding stairway mounts to 
the second floor, terminating in a balustered balcony that, 
before Oona’s renovations, overlooked the hall. In the curve 
of the stairway below. Dad kept a suit of Oriental armor and a 
tremendous bowl-shaped brass gong with its black-handled 
knocker. There seemed to be a secret rapport between Dad 
and that gong. Sometimes when he was passing by deep in 
thought, he would turn and lightly tap it with one finger and 
then wait quietly to hear the muted tone come softly back 
to him as though in reply to some question he had asked. 

To the left of the hall there is the spacious vestibule with 
its high ceiling arched like that of a cathedral. It was here 
that the pipe organ stood. Dad kept it until just a couple of 
years before he left for Vevey, when Oona persuaded him to 
have it taken out. I don’t know how she managed it, for Dad 
loved it. Every now and then he would pick out something 
on it, usually one' of his own compositions. But if a friend 
came in who knew how to play, he couldn’t get by without 
first sitting down to that organ. It wasn’t enough for my 
father to fill the vestibule with the mellifluous thunder of 
those swelling organ chords; he had amplifiers to carry the 
sound all over the house. 

The vestibule also served as a small movie theater. The 
projection room was behind the stairwell in the hall, and there 
was a button to press to release the screen, which would drop 
down in front of the organ. 

Down the hall from the vestibule was the living room, 
which in those days, before the study was added, opened on 
the terraced lawn behind the house. The room is elegant in 
shape, with broad windows and white-paneled walls. In the 



center of the wall to the right as you go in is a broad fire- 
place, where instead of wood Dad always burned coal, in the 
English custom. 

Xhe fireplace was flanked by bookcases filled with volumes 
that covered a wide range of subjects and authors. On top of 
the bookcases my father kept his Oscar and his figurines, 
which he sometimes let us examine, though he hovered around 
us anxiously the whole time, cautioning us not to drop them 
because they were valuable. I remember some of them with 
special vividness, quaint little equestrians on their prancing 
horses, the whole figurine standing about a foot high, with 
every detail, even to the sabers, perfectly executed. 

In the far left-hand corner of the living room stood the 
piano, a Steinway grand, and close by was the big Webster 
dictionary, which Dad consulted so often, and the table he 
used when he worked downstairs. To the near left of the 
door was the bright red lacquered Oriental cabinet decorated 
with a maze of dragons and other fanciful figures. In the cabi- 
net my father kept the mementos of his trip to Japan, the 
kimonos and the ceremonial masks and the beautifully en- 
graved samurai swords. 

There were two of these swords with slightly curved, 
razor-sharp blades. Each was encased in a red, black and gold 
lacquered wooden sheath. The larger one w as about tliree feet 
long and too fonnidable for mv tastes. The small one was a 
foot and a half long, beautifully engraved with red and black 
figures and copiously decorated with gold braid. I loved that 
sword, but Dad would never let us handle it for long. He 
was always afraid we would hurt ourselves on the sharp 

In the days of my father’s bachelorhood, the living room 
boasted an indiscriminate assortment of furniture, though 
most of it was in the heavy^ English style. Some of that furni- 
ture had served him in the small apartments wdicre he first 
lived in Los Angeles. Other pieces had been bought for the 
houses he had rented. After he built his own place he just 



moved everything he possessed into it. He never could bring 
himself to part with anything he owned. 

Scattered around the room were the mementos of his trips 
abroad, the tasteful and the tasteless occupying equally im- 
portant positions. Photographs stood in phalanxes on book- 
cases and table and piano. Like the mementos, they were 
there chiefly for personal reasons. It gave the room a some- 
what cluttered but comfortable appearance. 

Across the hall from the living room was the stately dining 
room with its wide windows, also opening out on the lawn. 
The dining room was really the most modern in the house. 
Above the fireplace, which was seldom used, a paneled mirror 
beautifully reflected the outside world opposite it and, on 
gala occasions, the elegant guests around the massive dining 
table. Now that Syd and I were young men in uniforms, we 
had a place at that table. Year by year our steady growth 
from boyhood into manhood was transiently recorded by the 
big mirror that looked down on so many fascinating scenes. 

Next to the dining room was a small spare room which 
Paulette’s maid occupied when she came to live with us. A 
narrow back hall separated both these rooms from the old- 
fashioned kitchen and pantry which were the scene of so 
many boyish memories. Behind the kitchen lay the servants’ 
dining room, and their living quarters were on the floor 

Upstairs there were three big bedrooms, each with a bath- 
room. There was the room where I was born and which came 
to be Syd’s and mine when we stayed there. As soon as pos- 
sible we would dash up to that friendly haven and strip off our 
uniforms like prisoners geting out of their stripes. 

Down the hall from ours was the middle bedroom, where 
Syd was bom and which was later to become Paulette’s. Then 
came the master bathroom. That bathroom seemed to be al- 
ways permeated with the odor of Mitsouko, my father’s 
favorite cologne. He used to store bottles and bottles of it on 
his bathroom shelf. (My father kept himself well supplied in 



everything, as if he were always afflicted by a vague fear of 
running out.) For as long as 1 can remember he has used only 
Mitsouko. It has become so integral a part of his personality to 
me that I cannot smell that woodsy fragrance without turning 
around instinctively, expecting to see him there. 

And now I come to another room, the most mysterious one 
in the whole house — for so my father made it appear to us. It 
was the organ room, which opened into the master bedroom. 
Every now and then Dad, Syd and I would make a solemn 
pilgrimage upstairs to this room. Dad would stand in front of 
the double doors which scaled it off and open one, causing a 
suction that would make the other fly out with a swish, as 
though released by an invisible hand. Then all three of us 
would go reverently into the big oblong room that housed 
the organ pipes. A shadowy stairstep army, they marched 
from the veiy small slender trebles at one end to the massive, 
dignified basses at the otb^T. 

“It took a lot of work to get them all in there. A lot of 
work!” Dad would say proudly. And he would lay his hands 
on the pipes in a caress, as though they were old friends. 

Everything in that house seemed like an old friend to our 
father, but nowhere was this more apparent than in his bed- 
room. Before the study was built on downstairs, he did most 
of his work in that room, spending hours there writing and 
reading. It seemed to bear the imprint of his personality more 
plainly than any other place in the house. It is a spacious room 
full of wide windows and boasting a handsome fireplace 
which I cannot recall Dad’s ever using. But it was austerely 
furnished — a writing table and chair, another big Webster, 
and twin beds, each with its night stand. 

My father usually slept in the far bed, the one by the win- 
dows. I recall the pulp detective magazines that were always 
stacked by this bed. My father might read Spengler and 
Schopenhauer and Kant for edification, but for sheer relaxa- 
tion he chose murder mysteries. Tired from a hard day s 
work, he liked to read them in bed for they put him to sleep. 



In the drawer of the night stand beside his bed, my father 
kept a thirty-eight caliber automatic, with its bullets. He 
would sometimes show it to Syd and me, though we never 
saw him fire it. 

“I practice with it,” he would tell us. “I’m not a bad marks- 
man.” I could tell by the way he handled it that it gave him as 
much a sense of security as the samurai sword downstairs 
gave me. 

In the alcove, where the windows which looked out on his 
stepped lawn commanded a fine view of the skies, of his neigh- 
bors’ houses below and the whole town of Beverly Hills, my 
father kept another prized possession. It was the powerful tele- 
scope, mounted on a tripod, which he had owned ever since 
I could remember. Syd and I spent a great deal of time with 
Dad at that telescope, in which he found as much excitement 
as a boy, fiddling with the knobs, adjusting the lenses, trying 
to bring various objects into clear focus. At night we would 
study the moon, when it was up, and the starry heavens. Dad 
would point out the Big Dipper and a few of the main con- 
stellations, but actually he was no astronomer at heart. He 
much preferred training the telescope on his neighbors’ homes 
below him, and under that powerful lens both the more dis- 
tant and the very near were alike neighbors to him. 

Sometimes he would train the telcsco[)c on a solitarv man 
walking along the street. He would follow him, musing aloud 
and every now and then turning the glass over to us so we 
could get a look too. 

“You see that man?” he would say. “He must be going 
home after a hard day’s work. Look at his gait, so slow, so 
tired. His head’s bent. Something’s on his mind. What could 
it be?” 

Yes, Dad with his lively curiosity was too close to human- 
ity to go soaring off for long into the heavens. I guess it is not 
coincidence that his graceful pantomime expresses not the 
grandeur of the starry skies but the comic-pathetic foibles of 
his fellow man. 



And speaking of foibles, 1 cannot close this chapter without 
talking of the most curious, even mysterious furnishing in my 
father’s house. It was the Persian rug that completely covered 
the floor of his bedroom. That rug! It was reddish hued, with 
a flower design, and doubtless it had once been very expen- 
sive; but as far back as 1 can recall, it was old and shabby. My 
mother says it was there when I was born and was far from 
new then. From the door to the far windows a threadbare 
path ran through it where the nap had been completely worn 
down, exposing the warp and woof of the foundation weave. 
But my father would never part with it, despite the pleas — 
and there were many from all of us during the years that 
followed — to replace it with a new one. 

“Oh, no, no, I have to leave it there.” he would protest with 
a stubborn shake of his head. “I've had it such a long rime and 
there’s something ccmnccrcd with it. Ir brings me luck.” 

W'har that was, what very important incident out of his 
past, he would never divulge tt) anvonc. but he always gave 
the impression that ir was the memorv of something very 
close to him. I don’t know — 1 only remember mv mother’s 
telling me once, when 1 asked her about ir, that it was along 
that route that m\- fat Iter had paced to and fro, timing her 
labor pains, the night I, his first living child, was born. 

7 ? 

Eight years before, when Syd and I had lived in the house on 
the hill, we had been babies, indifferent to the routines of our 
home. Now as growing boys we suddenly found ourselves in- 
truders in an establishment which had been formulated when 
my father first built the house and which had been running 
smoothly at the time my mother came there as a bride. 

She, like us, had been an intruder, because although she was 
to all appearances the mistress, she had in reality no say in its 
running. She was very young and very inexperienced, with- 
out any notion of how to throw that smoothly running ma- 
chine out of gear in order to set a new pace more to her liking, 
as Paulette Goddard was to do later. She could only kick out 
blindly at what she considered an injustice. But despite her 



protests, her despairing sense of outrage, the life of the house 
went on in the well-oiled grooves of habit. It was, I suppose, 
just about the only thing that remained stable during that 
stonny period of my parents’ marriage. It survived the ship- 
wreck of their union with its subscejuent scandal, and during 
the ensuing years of my father’s bachelorhood it settled into 
an even more rigid routine, the routine of a well-ordered 
English middle-class domesticity. 

In all the reams of co[)y that have been issued about my 
father’s alleged hedonistic activities and iconoclastic nature, I 
don’t think one of his accusers has brought out his extreme, 
almost caricatured, bent toward domesticity — his love of a 
well-ordered home and a life in which surprise or chance, as 
such, pitjued rather than pleased him. He was happiest, most 
comfortable, when things v\ere the same, w'hcn you rose in 
the morning with the certainty of what you were going to do 
at four in the afternoon. 

AMicn he wasn’t working, the day began for my father 
anj w here from eleven o’clock in the morning to one p.m., for 
he stayed up late at night. I le read and wTotc in his room 
until four in the afternoon, unless it w^as Saturday and he 
planned to take us on a jaunt with him somewhere. At four 
he had a cpiick game of tennis with friends, if any were there. 
If not, he would bat the ball around by himself dowui on the 
court. 1 ennis w as follow ed by a cjuick dip in the pool and a 
show er or steam bath, after which he w ould either dress to go 
out for dinner or eat at home. 

Ilis home meals w’ere ahvays simple and seldom varied. 
7'hey were essentially I'aiglish — Dad has never cared for 
gravies or rich sauces. Ilis main course almost always proved 
to be rare roast beef, roast chicken, roast lamb or lamb chops. 
There w^ould be a vegetable, peas usually, and baked potatoes. 
My father seldom bothered w ith the menu but left every- 
thing up to the scrv ants, who knew his tastes. If he went out 
he usually WH)und up at the I lollywood restaurant of his 
friend Henry Bergman. If he spent the evening at home he 



read or wrote. He seldom entertained in tlic da^'s before his 
marriage to Paulette. And he always had tea and crumpets 
with marmalade served every Sunday afternoon at four, lea 
and crumpets, the symbol of solid English comfort and secu- 
rity, was a little ritual with my father. 

“It's four o’clock, boys," he would religiously inform us 
on the week ends we spent with him. “d ime for tea and 
crumpets as it’s done in England just at this hour." 

This recitation of what made up my father’s day during 
the stretches when a picture wasn’t in production sounds very 
staid and dignified. Only life there was never like that. I he 
staidness was just a shelJ, a veneer such as you find in the most 
riotous scenes of A/we in Wonderland. Indeed, a kind of 
Alice-in-Wonderland frenzy perv^aded the house from top to 
bottom, and it was caused by my father’s penchant for both 
perfectionism in service and split-second timing in action. 

Dad couldn’t have found better servants to fulfill his 
almost impossible dream of how a good house should be ruri 
than his small Japanese staff of three. (He cmploved Mexican 
gardeners to take care of the outside grounds.) 1 guess tlicre 
never were any servants like those Japanese servants of his; 
they seemed to have an almost intuitive rapport w ith him. 

Actually, there is a rapport between luy father and the 
whole Japanese race. 1 hey understand and love his pan- 
tomime, which has so much in common with the tradition of 
their own Kabuki theater. My father, for his part, fell in love 
with the Kabuki style of acting, with its stress on pantomime, 
from the first time he saw a Japanese troupe performing in 
this country. He liked the Japanese on another score. They 
were perfectionists at heart, and perfectionism down to the 
slightest detail is my father’s passion. If he ever showed any 
snobbery it was in this field. He wouldn’t put up with an 
inefficient worker. 

Dad was the unmistakable ruler of the house, though he 
left the entire running of it in the hands of his servants. At 



the liciid V. ;is I-'raiik, wlio acred as hurlcr, valcr, housekeeper 
and all-rouiul Man kriday. Scpiarc-shoiildercd, with an honest, 
homely face, Frank was almost a magician in being able to 
cany easily on his back a load of work that would have 
staggered Atlas. Among his other accomplishments he spoke 
English fluently, though with a colorful accent. He was 
always affable and friendly and Syd and I came to love him 
like a brother. 

Kay, the chauffeur, was more along the line of what is con- 
sidered the Japanese r\ pe. I le liad a set, impassive face, a 
brisk, almost martial gait, and a certain stiff formality of man- 
ner that, with his black uniform, his chauffeur’s cap and boots, 
gave him the appearance of a manikin. I can’t remember seeing 
Kay without that uniform and that deadpan face, excep't 
when now and then, in the servants’ quarters awav from his 
master, he would allow himself to relax in a smile. Kay spoke 
English but nor fluently, and he tlid not talk nearly so much 
as Frank. 1 Ic was a jilodtlcr, working mcthodicalK', efficiently 
and on course. 1 think that even in his dreams — if he had any 
— Kay was alwa\ s on course. 

George, the cook, had almost no command of English, and 
spoke it only in broken snatches. But when he talked in 
his pots and pans it was Iv ric poetiy. There wasn’t a dish of 
whatever kind or natiouality that (feorge couldn’t cook 
better than ap\one else in town. I le w as a small, w'iry man, 
about fifty or filty-liye when I first knew him, and just as I 
can’t recall c\ er seeing Kay wuliout his uniform, 1 can’t re- 
member (ieorge without his white apron and tall chef’s cap. 
He wore his ajwon even on his days off. I think he must have 
walked around the streets in ir. 

George w'as as animated as Kay was stolid. 1 nc\er saw 
George when he didn’t give the appearance of being tre- 
mendously busy at something. Lven w’hen he was sitting 
down he looked busy. It was his face, w hich was as expres- 
sive as Kay’s was deadpan. Seamed and lined, witn bright 



eyes that always sparkled as though over some inward humor, 
it seemed to have come straight out of some Japanese etching. 
It fascinated my father. 

Syd and I came to know the servants well from the very 
first, just because we were strangers who liadn’t yet been 
fitted in properly. For instance, there was no place to put us 
when our father dined out, so we were asked if wc minded 
eating with the servants. Minded? In their cozy dining room 
where sometimes, to make things even more gay, their rela- 
tives would gather, everything was novel. We ate exotic Jap- 
anese dishes with chopsticks which Frank taught us how to 
use. And we never had to watch our manners. 

But we didn’t spend just mealtimes with the servants during 
those first week ends. Before we found outside friends and 
interests, Syd and I hung around them a good part of the 
day, and so we saw how things were run. Iwerything was 
peaceful enough in the mornings, before the hour Dad was 
accustomed to rise. The servants went calmly about their 
chores. Kay worked over the cars in the garage across the 
road. George puttered around in his kitchen. Frank did his 
housecleaning and checked over the household stock. He had 
charge of all restocking, from kitchen and linen supplies to 
items in my father’s wardrobe — socks, shirrs, even shoes. Dad 
just couldn’t be bothered about such details. 

Sometime before eleven o’clock Frank would go into the 
master bathroom and lav out Dad’s shaving equipment. It had 
to be arranged in a special way, so that when Dad got up he 
could rush into the bathroom, grab up the lather tube, the 
brush and then the razor in quick succession and whip through 
the tiresome job in a minimum of time. Time! Dad always 
treated it as though it were some precious jewel. 

When eleven o’clock came, the feeling in the kitchen was 
like that of soldiers on the eve of the big push. By this time 
George would have Dad’s breakfast cooked and ready and 
now he would be hovering anxiously over it, coddling it 



Sometimes earlier, sometimes later, you never knew when, 
that bell would ring. When it did, what action! You never 
saw anyone move so fast as those Japanese when the bell rang. 

“Ah, golly, youh fathah ring,” George would exclaim in 
his falsetto voice, flinging his hands over his head. It was a 
favorite gesture of his. I'hen with spatulas, spoons and ladles 
he would whip the breakfast onto a tray. Fascinated by his 
speed, I would watcli him dishing up kippered herrings some 
mornings, on others flounder steamed in milk, or sand dabs, 
skate or shrimp — for Dad's breakfasts were as English as his 
dinners, though he left them also to the discretion of the cook. 
Sometimes George would have a dish of bacon and tomatoes 
instead, sometimes one of bacon and lamb kidneys. But Dad's 
favorite breakfast, the one he had most often, consisted of 
dollar-sizx sour-milk j)ancackcs, sausage, marmalade, toast 
and eggs. 

As soon as the tray was prepared, Frank, who had been 
hovering at George’s shoulder, would snatch it up. Then with 
an alTable grin at me he would say, “Come along, kid. He’s 
your fathah, isn’t he? Fell him good morning.” 

So hVank and 1 would fly with the tray to Dad’s bedroom, 
where he usually had breakfast in those days. My father, 
waiting for us in his dressing gown, would greet me with a 
friendly smile. 

“Your father had a restless night last night,” he’d say to me. 
I'vcn then I noticed how he always spoke of himself in the 
third person, as though he were two people — one just the 
commentator, the other the real person who did the things 
and won the ajiplausc, who was the Little Tramp. 

Sometimes when Cicorge had prepared a special dish he 
would want to take the tray up himself to get Dad’s reaction 
to it. And then I would go tagging along after him. George 
would set the tray down by Dad’s bed. 

“New dish,” he would say. “You try, you likee.” 

T hen Dad would sample it. He had a way of eating that 
made me feel like stuffing myself all over again just to watch 
him. F.ven seeing Dad chew on that old shoe in The Gold 



Rush sequence makes me hungry. It’s the way he cuts his 
meat so fastidiously, holding his knife English style, a tender, 
absorbed c.xpression on his face. He lifts the morsel of meat 
ta his mouth and slips it carefully in. He chews it slowly, 
savoring it with every taste bud — as though it were the most 
precious thing in the world. 

When that rapt expression came over Dad’s face as he 
sampled the meal, George would throw up his hands in de- 
light and his whole face w'ould beam. 

“Oh, likee, likee,” he would exclaim. “Good, hnh? Good!” 
No artist receiving praise for his work could have been more 
elated than George at those moments. 

After the breakfast was taken to my father, quiet settled 
again on the house because he was holed up in his room work- 
ing. Frank seldom disturbed him there. Once, long before, 
when he first came to work for Dad, he had made the mis- 
take of announcing a visitor. 

“Damn it,” Dad ejaculated, lifting his head from his yellow, 
lined paper. “I don’t want to see him. Tell him I’m out.” And 
he went right back to his writing. 

How could you possibly explain to someone that your 
master was out after you’d just gone in to announce him? 
Frank quickly learned to screen the visitors and decide for 
himself which ones Dad would w ant to see. There were very 
few of these. T o the rest Frank hed blandly, because it was 
the kindest and easiest arrangement all around. 

It w^as the same with the phone. Dad never could stand a 
phone, not the sight of it, not to talk over it, certainly nor the 
sound of its ringing. Just to hear it would set him off on a 

“Fatuous blockheads,” he would say, “inventing that god- 
dam thing. Goddam bloody racket! Shut it off! Shut it off!” 

Dad loathed the phone with all the ardor of his con- 
servative soul. But his favorite investment has always been 
A.T. & T. 

When Dad had dinner at home, Frank served in his im- 


iA\ \U\>\r. i.w WM \ \ 

iTiJiculatc white ]^\ckct ^\nd prim bow tic. He u'as in charge 
of the big parties, and if the need arose doubled as a waiter. 
But his chores went far beyond these. I le had charge of iny 
father’s appointments, and every morning he would go^to 
his room to tell him the schedule of the day. When Dad went 
out of town, Frank usually accompanied him as his right- 
hand man. He was also custodian of my father’s health, which, 
left to himself. Dad might have neglected. When Dad was 
indisposed — he suffered from an occasional nervous stomach 
and a tendency to colds — and a doctor wrote out a prescrip- 
tion for him, it was not only Frank who got it filled, but also 
Frank who saw that Dad took his medicine at the proper 
times. Frank was one of the few men who knew how to tell 
Dad what to do in a way that was pleasing to him. 

Frank, of course, was in charge of the scr\^ants and had to 
hire and fire them, for though Dad has always hared in- 
efficiency, he is also sensitive about dismissing the offending 
one himself. Dad seldom had to tell Frank outright that some- 
one had to go. It was a kind of game betw'cen them. 

“Idle food doesn’t taste good,” he would complain 
()bli(]nclv, and Frank would know that a new cook was in 
order. Bur once he found George he never had to look again. 
He didn’t have to look again for a chauffeur, either, after 
Kay came to work at the house on the hill. 

Kay treated the tw'o cars — the black (kidillac limousine and 
the new Ford which Dad had just bought for his own use — 
like pieces of art. 1 le would take them apart, polish and clean 
every piece aiul put it back in place again. Syd and 1 would 
watch him fascinated. But we could never get Kay to talk 

“Oh, I have to fix enh for Mr. Chapilaine,” he would say 
when \vc asked him what he was doing. “Must be velly 
puhfect foil youh fathali.” 

It seemed to me Kay was always polishing the limousine. 
When he drove around to the front door to pick Dad up, he 
would come fifteen minutes early and spend that time nibbing 

8 ] 


away on the car with his polishing cloth as if his life depended 
on it. 

“A'lust shine, must shine,” he would tell us. “Youh fathah 
always likes black, shiny cahs.” 

Kay was as dependable in his driving as in his care of the 
car. Dad had a great faith in his chauffeur’s ability to make 
deadlines, no matter how pressed, but sometimes he felt that 
Kay wasn’t doing his best. 

“Why are you stopping, Kay?” he would demand anx- 
iously. “Go on! Go on!” 

“But, Mr. Chapilaine, the stop light,” Kay would remon- 
strate plaintively, torn between loyalty to Dad and to the law. 
“The stop light is here.” 

For the most part, however, Kay had learned the knack of 
keeping the car moving at all times, to satisfy his employer. 1 
recall with a vividness that still makes me laugh how one day 
he kept it moving practically without stopping the whole 
distance from Beverly Hills to Wilmington. 

Dad and Tim Durant were planning a trip to Catalina on 
the yacht, and were already seated in the car when Dad sud- 
denly remembered his tennis racket. He never went anywhere 
without that racket. He sent Kay on the nm to the tennis 
house to get it. 

“No, I think the' racket’s upstairs,” Dad suddenly exclaimed 
after Kay had gone. 

He jumped out of the car, Tim at his heels, and ran into 
the house to look for it. Not finding it upstairs, they came 
back down to see what luck Kay had had. The car was gone. 
Kay had found the racket in the tennis house, had come back 
with it posthaste, put it in the car and got in himself and 
driven off — all in double quick time and without once look- 
ing in the back. 

Dad and Tim sat down to wait. They were sure that in a 
few minutes Kay would discover he had no passengers and 
return for them. But time went by and still no Kay. He drove 
all the way to Wilmington, a distance of some twenty-five 



miles, without looking back once, weaving in and out through 
traffic at breakneck speed in a desperate attempt to make up 
lost time. He did so, and more. He parked the car at the pier, 
leaped out and opened the hack do(<r in triumph. Dave An- 
derson, the captain of the Panacea, was there to record Kay’s 
Jistracted cry when he gazed inside. 

Mr. Chapilaine! Mr. Chapilaine!” yelled Kay in anguish. 
“Someone kidnaped Mr. Chapilaine!” 

1 he wholehearted devotion of those three Japanese ser- 
vants to my father was something no Occidental could under- 
stand. Obediently they satisfied his every whim, even though 
it might be at great discomfort to themselves. When Dad 
asked Cicorge to go along on the Panacea as galley cook, 
George never thought of objecting, though he was a victim 
of seasickness, ghastly, uncompromising sickness that at- 
tacked him as soon as the yacht went into motion. 

“No likee sea. No likce ocean. Ohhh,” George would wail. 

But you would alw ays see him there, often hovering 
the rail pretending to be viewing the sky and water, for he 
was ashamed of his malady and didn’t want others to know 
about it. 

Frank, who was also a victim of seasickness, was spared the 
torture of going to sea on the Panacea he wasn’t 
needed and there w'asn’t room for him. But he, too, cheerfully 
made any sacrifice asked of him — sucli as the monumental one 
on tlie trip he took with Dad to New York one winter. 

They moved into a suite high in the Waldorf Tow’ers. It 
looked like a cozy haven to Frank, for it was sleety, subzero 
weather. But Dad stepped into the room, which w'as pleas- 
antly warm, took one look at the radiator, sniffed disapprov- 
ingly and shook his head. 

“We can’t have thi.s,” he said firmly. “Turn off that gas at 

It was steam heat, of course. But all radiators signify gas 
heat to Dad and he is convinced that gas gives him a headache. 



Without a word Frank went through all the rooms turning 
off the radiators, though he was well aware of what the result 
would be. The room was soon down to freezing. Dad, who 
in spite of his convictions about gas heat is quite sensitive to 
cold, went to bed and piled on the covers. Frank sat shiver- 
ing in his overcoat in the living room. Only at long last, 
when he was unable to take the cold any longer, did he retreat 
to his own room, shut the door and commit lese majesty by 
surreptitiously turning on his heat. Me never complained then 
or later about that frigid visit in New York. Ilis sole com- 
ment on the whole episode wa.s a humorously triumphant, 
“But your father don’t get a headache, that’s for sure.’’ 

Frank found his greatest pleasure in keeping ahead of my 
father in cvcivtliing. He devoted so much of his time to the 
job of making him comfortable that before it was all over he 
had become very intuitive where Dad was concerned. Instinc- 
rhcl)- he could feel when Dad was happ)- or sad or in an 
irritable mood, and he was always sympathetic. 

It was to Frank that Dad poured out many of his troubles 
when he had had a hard day. And it was upon Frank tliat he 
showered much of his irrational .mger when things weren’t 
going right and he had to blow off at someone. My father 
would explode over the most minute omissions on Frank’s 
part. The violence of his anger was always so our of jiropor- 
tion to the object that had stirred him that I couldn’t help 
being frightened at it in those early days, i'hat was what 
made Frank’s imperturbability so amazing to me. 

If Dad didn’t find the shaving equipment laid out in just 
the proper way, he would storm at Frank. When he couldn’t 
find a tennis racket he himself had misplaced, Frank would 
get it again. It was the same story if Frank set our the wrong 
pair of tennis shoes. As small a thing as moving a pencil from 
where he had left it the night before would irritate him. lie 
would even take it out on Frank when people failed to show 
up for appointments, as if Frank, the wonderworker, were re- 



sponsible for their dereliction. And then right in the midst of 
an explosion Dad would recall himself. 

“I’m sorry, Frank. I didn’t mean to raise my voice,” he 
would apologize, though he seldom did so to outsiders. “I 
forgot myself a little bit there.” 

I remember a classic tirade one evening when Frank laid 
out the wrong suit for Dad. Often when Dad lost his temper 
with Frank it was because the latter had failed to read his 
mind aright. Dad had come to take Frank’s intuitive care of 
him as the natural course of events. 

“You’re getting careless,” Dad stormed. “W’hy don’t you 
listen to me and follow orders^ Remember, I’m J^a^ ing your 
salary.” When Dad was really angry he could never refrain 
from throwing in the bit about the salary. 

Frank didn’t say anything at all, much less remind Dad that 
he hadn’t been told what suit was wanted. After all, he really 
felt he was to blame because his mind-reading act had failed. 
He came out into the hall and saw me standing there per- 
plexed, unhappy, and he grinned. 

“Oh, sure, \'our fathah gets mad now and then,” he said. 
“But he’s good — easy to work for. Something's on his mind — 
too many things. So he gets mad. But he don’t carry it w ithin 
his mind all the time. Ciers rid of it cjuick. Next minute he’s 
happy again.” 

Looking back from this vantage point, I don’t know^ 
w hether mv father ever considered the servants as individuals 
in their ow n right, but I doubt if he did. I hey wxue far closer 
than that to him. They were like his heart, his liver, his spleen 
— so completely necessary to him that they had become a 
part of himself. I Ic needed them as much as he did his viral 
organs and in the same way. I Ic relied on them w ithout ques- 
tion or even any conscicuis reflection. They w ere his serx^ants, 
closer to him in some w ays than I who wms his son. 


It was Frank who usually picked us up Friday afternoons at 
Black-Foxe. He would let us out in the circular drive at the 
front door and we would burst from the car and catapult into 
the house. But as we started down the wide hallway our foot- 
steps would become slower and slower. We would be quite 
dignified by the time we entered the living room, because we 
knew this was expected of us. We always exchanged greet- 
ings with our father in the copybook way. 

He would have wound up his work for the day preparatory 
to our arrival, and, if the weather were the least cool, would 
be waiting for us in front of the fireplace, a pair of bellows in 
his hands, a fire blazing in the grate. 

“Hello, Father.” we would say. When we were young we 



always addressed him as bather. It was only as we grew older 
that we slipped into the more vernacular “Dad.” 

“Well, how are you, sons?” Dad would ask, looking around 
from the fire. “How’s everything at the school these days?” 

While we told him about school he would work with the 
bellows until he was satisfied. Then he would return them to 
their place and stand with his back to the fire, warming him- 
self, nodding his head from time to time, and occasionally 
interrupting to tell us how he had been spending his week. 

Behind him tlie glowing coal wou'd sprout little blue flames, 
filling the room with a warmth that was pleasant if the out- 
side air was nippy. But sometimes Dad would keep that fire 
stoked so high that Syd and I found the room a little too 
warm for comfort. Dad, however, never seemed to have 
enough of it. Perhaps those dismal London fogs that ate into 
his bones when he was a child made him shrink all his later 
life from the least chill. 

At six thirty or seven, if Dad was eating at home, we 
would have dinner with him at the table in the dining room. 
Those dignified meals were most uncomfortable for Syd and 
me in our younger davs, because it was here that our father’s 
copybook disciplines came so painfully to the fore. We were 
supposed to mind our manners and remain quiet throughout 
the meal unless spoken to. We would sit straight as ramrods 
on our chairs, our short legs swinging ner\ ously. 

Sometimes our father spoke to us — he always called us 
Charles and Sydney, there were no nicknames with Dad. 
When he addressed us we answered. Otherwise we ate 
quietly while he sat absorbed in his thoughts, his face grave, 
his eyes faraway. W'c would have liked to bolt our food 
down and escape, but tliis too was denied us. 

“Ah, ah, ah, ah,” Dad would caution. “Not so fast. You 
mayn’t leave till the grownups are through.” 

Often, though, Paulette would be a guest, and then we had 
a respite. Paulette rook in the situation at once. From the very 
first we had a feeling she was our ally. She would talk to us, 



draw us into the conversation, even get a little laughter out of 
us. And all the while her eyes would be twinkling encourage- 

It was different with Dr. Reynolds, the noted brain sur- 
geon, psychiatrist and hypnotist, who was a frequent guest at 
our father’s place too. We saw a great deal of the English- 
born Dr. Cecil Reynolds throughout the years, until in 1947 
at the age of sLxty-six he committed suicide to escape the con- 
stant agony of his last illness. He had testified at such notor- 
ious murder trials as those of Kid McCoy and William 
Edward Hickman, and had taken part in experiments in 
telepathy at the Pasadena Community Theatre. My mother 
tells me that when she first knew my father he and the 
doctor terrified her with their abracadabra over a ouija board. 

To Syd and me there was an aura of the bizarre about Dr. 
Reynolds that extended even to his first wife, who, we 
learned, had been devoured by sharks off the coast of Maui 
while on her honeymoon with her second husband. Somehow 
that somber story seemed to agree with the atmosphere en - 
gendered by Dr. Reynold’s personal appearance. He was a 
tall, cadaverous man with hollow checks, a rapidly balding 
head fringed with black hair, and deep-set, piercing eyes. 
Whenever his concentrated gaze fell upon me 1 couldn’t help 
squirming, because my father had told me the doctor knew 
all about the mind and I was sure he was reading my ever)' 

Dr. Reynolds and my father were drawn to each other by 
a mutual fascination. My father has always been attracted to 
the macabre, and as a surgeon. Dr. Reynolds had plenty of 
this kind of fare to serve him. The doctor, on his side, was 
lured by the footlights and had taken up acting as an avoca- 
tion. In later years he retired from his proper field to devote 
much of his time to the theater arts. My father could never 
understand why the doctor, whom he considered a genius in 
his own field, should give up his profession to become a poor 
actor. But all this was to come later. At the time we first knew 



him, Dr. Reynolds had the discretion to indulge his yearning 
for the life of an actor only on the side. And in this Dad was 
humoring him by promising him a part in his next picture. 

When Dr. Reynolds came to dinner he would launch into 
fascinating descriptions about the human brain and his deli- 
cate operations thereon. Me spared no details, nor would my 
father permit him to, plying him with probing questions that 
kept him talking throughout most of the meal. 

I remember one night listening to Dr. Reynold’s dramatic 
description of how he had diagnosed an epileptic’s trouble 
just by watching him when he was in convulsions. 

“1 knew at once we’d have to have a lower lobotomy done,” 
Dr. Reynolds concluded. 

“What’s a lobotomy'” Svd and 1 burst out together. We 
had been following the doctor’s account step by step, only to 
find ourselves baffled at the most exciting place by a medical 
term. But our interruption only brought us a rebuke from our 

“Now you know' better than to break in like that,” he said 
sternly. “I’ve taught you better manners.” 

Syd and I fell back into an abashed silence, as w^e always 
did. I le was the disciplinarian, the stern, grave father. And so 
when a few minutes later he changed chameleon-wise right 
before our eyes, it came as a delightful shock to us. Among 
other phobias. Dr. Reynolds had an obsessive one about clean- 
liness. He W'aged a constant war on imaginary germs. He 
never opened a door or touched a piece of furniture without 
carefully wiping his hands on his handkerchief. If he felt the 
pollution to be even more serious, lie would hurry to the 
bathroom for hot water and soap. This evening he made 
the mistake of allowing his napkin to slip from his lap to 
the floor. He stooped down, recovered it and laid it aside. 

“Excuse me,” he muttered half under his breath, and jump- 
ing to his feet hurried from the room without a word of 

Syd and I, who had no idea of the doctor’s phobia, stared 



after him in perplexity. Dad, seeing our bewilderment, pro- 
ceeded to inform us of his destination, but not by word of 
mouth. His face assumed in a twinkling the doctor’s lugu- 
brious expression. He began to wring his hands as though 
under a faucet of water. The mimicry was so realistic that it 
was impossible not to guess at once what he was doing. Syd 
and I, like two conspirators in league with Dad, burst into 
suppressed laughter. Carefully Dad shook his hands in midair, 
pretended to dry them meticulously, then placed one to his 
mouth and burped discreetly two or rhrce times as was the 
doctor’s habit. It was all over in a twinkling. The next instant 
Dad’s face had resumed its ordinary grave expression, so that 
all that had gone before seemed an illusion. But he put his 
finger to his lips. 

“Shhh,” he whispered warningly. “We can’t hurt his feel- 
ings, you know.” 

He was the father again — stem, grave. But nothing was 
ever really the same after that evening, because from then on 
Syd and I were .always on the lookout for these quick, irre- 
pressible flashes of mimicry, which, we discovered, were a fre- 
quent punctuation of our father’s existence. 

Dad had a number of etiquette rules which he drilled us on 
during our visits to his home. Knock before entering. Sit 
quiet at table. Excuse yourself before leaving. Never inter- 
rupt conversations or shove ahead of others. Stand up when 
a lady enters the room. Help her with her wrap. Open the 
door for her when she goes out. 

“Life is much more bearable if we all observe the little 
amenities,” he used to explain. 

I think the most important of all these rules to my father 
was the one about knocking on closed doors. Syd and I 
quickly discovered that opening a closed door without knock- 
ing could raise his hackles quicker than any other offense. 
Upstairs or downstairs, at home or at the studio, he could 
never bear to have anyone do it. And he would dress down 



not only his sons but his long-time associates, his closest 
friends and the servants for this infraction. That anger, at 
once so instantaneous and so desperate, could only have been 
bred in the humiliation of his childhood, when no closed 
doors of his were respected. 

I remember the first time I ever opened a door without 
knocking. Full of some exciting news — I’ve long since forgot- 
ten what it was — I rushed to his bedroom and burst in. 1 
didn’t have a chance to tell what was on my mind. All at once 
my father exploded. 

“Don’t you have any better manners than not to knock?’’ 
he exclaimed, and I saw he was actually trembling. “Now go 
on, go on.” Our father never once raised his hand to us in 
violence, yet \vc were in fear of him just the same when he 
was shaken with that anger. It seemed to express something 
dreadful, a very rage of loneliness. 

All in all. Syd and I found our father a very good parent — 
more objective than most, perhaps, bur concerned and watch- 
ful over our welfare, flow earnestly he tried to curb his 
tongue in our presence! It was difficult for him because 
for so many years he had been free to yent himself in that 
picturesque language for which he has become famous. Dad’s 
choice of swear words always served as an accurate barom- 
eter of the extent of his anger. 

“Damn it” meant only mild irritation. “Goddam it” was 
stronger, but still everything was under control. “Goddam 
fatheads! Timpty-headed blockheads! Fatuous sons of 
bitches!” All these phrases were an unmistakable sign that 
his ire was rising. But when he used the word “bloody,” or, 
what was worse, “Goddam bloody bastards,” then you knew 
his temper was at storm fur\'. Dad never used the expletive 
“blootlv” unless he had lost his head completely. 

Sometimes in the middle of a diatribe at .someone he would 
turn to sec Syd and me staring at him in open-mouthed ad- 

“Please, sons, your father forgot himself,” he would say 



to US apologetically in an aside. “I don’t want you using 
those words.” 

Then he would turn back to the unlucky person he had 
been dressing down, and before long the words would start 
popping out again as if by themselves. And he would have 
to apologize to us all over again. 

When Dad wasn’t swamped with work he tried to provide 
entertainment for us on the week ends we spent with him. On 
occasion he would take us to a movie Saturday afternoons. 
Syd and I loved the Laurel and Hardy comedies and Dad 
could never get over that. 

“Well, do you know about my sons?” he would say to 
friends. “They actually think other people arc funnier 
than I am — their own father.” 

But Dad knew how much we enjoyed his pictures. Often 
he would give us and any friends we chose to invite a 
private screening of his films in the little theater in the 
vestibule of our home. Sometimes as many as twenty of us 
would be there. 

Dad loved to join us in the theater, where sofas, divans and 
chairs from all over the house were brought in to accom- 
modate the guests. He would take a chair at the side of the 
room and sit there with his arms folded, fully intending to 
be just another spectator. But the picture wasn’t long in 
progress before he would get up from his scat and work 
his way across the room to stand beside us and our guests 
where he could watch our reactions. I Ic v/as more interested 
in that than in the Little Tramp himself. 

Dad, however, couldn’t stay quietly watching for long. 
Presently he was providing a running commentary for us. 

“There he is now, there comes the Little Fellow,” he would 
say, rubbing his hands together gleefully. 

“Yes, there he is, with the big fellow with the bandaged 
foot. That means trouble. Watch it, boys.” 

Our father’s eager monologue seemed quite natural to 



US. We never thought once, then, that we were the only 
children in the world to enjoy the privilege of Chaplin dia- 
logue with silent Chaplin films. 

Whenever the picture came to a high point and we would 
burst out laughing. Dad would laugh too. I can still hear 
that vibrant chuckle of his, which was not brought on by 
the Little Tramp’s antics, but by our reactions to them. 
Sometimes we laughed until we cried. Then Dad was in 
seventh heaven. 

“Do you really find it that funny?” he would ask, and 
add with satisfaction, “You know, kids are the toughest 
audience in the world to please.” 

Like most fathers. Dad used to play games with us, too. I 
remember our favorite one was the bogeyman routine. Syd 
and I loved that terrifying game in which our father would 
act out the bogeyman and come sneaking around corners after 
us, his face contorted into a truly maniacal expression. 

Syd and 1 would back away from him until, half mesmer- 
ized with delicious terror, we could no longer move. Then 
we would begin screaming and Dad would realize he was 
going too far. lie would stop short and his face would as- 
sume its familiar expression. 

“Well, bow’d you like that?” he would say, laughing. 
“Your father can be quite scary, too, can’t he?” 

Dad, like a good father, always told us bedtime stories. 
Bur what stories! Sometimes they would be ghost stories 
and Syd and I would lie there listening, feeling a thrill of 
delightful fear. Often his stories came from Dickens, but 
they were not, as you might expect, the sentimental or 
mildly satirical pass.agcs with which Dickens abounds. They 
w'erc those which had a macabre cast to them. Oddly enough, 
my father and Dickens were alike in their predilection for 
the macabre. 

I think Oliver Twist was a favorite of Dad’s because 
young Oliver’s experiences in the orphanage so closely ap- 
proximated his own. The pa.ssage he usually chose to act 



out for US is the one that describes Oliver Twist’s meeting 
with Fagin. 

“How’d you like to be the little boy just waking up and 
you see this man with a beard standing there and the knife 
coming at you?” he would say in that soft, foreboding tone 
of voice that always ushered us into one of his characteri- 
zations. Then, contorting his face, he would begin playing 
the part of Fagin. 

“What do you watch me for? Why are you awake? What 
have you seen? Speak out, boy! Quick — quick! For your 
life!” he would hiss. 

Dad repeated the story often, but I don’t recall his ever 
telling it in the same way. Each time he would add fresh 
embellishments from his own imagination, so that Syd and 
I never knew exactly what to expect. But we could always 
count on its being exciting. 

Long after Dad had laughingly bidden us good night, we 
would lie in our twin beds discussing his performance. We 
talked, though, mostly to remind each other that we weren’t 
alone, for his magic recital had penetrated our bones like 
ice. And there in the dark we would hear all around us the 
lonely tap, tap, tap of the tree branches against the windows 
and the melancholy sound of the night breeze. 


Throughout my childhood and youth, life with my father 
was like life in an open boat on a sea with massive rollers. The 
rollers, spaced about five years apart, were the intense crea- 
tive periods, each of which culminated in one of those pic- 
tures that made up his series of cinema masterpieces — City 
Lights, Modem Times, The Great Dictator, Monsieur Ver- 
doux and finally Limelight. I do not know how my father 
brought The King in New York to completion in Europe, 
but I rather imagine it was with the same concentration and 
intensity that he did the others. 

When Dad is working, all outside interests, family in- 
cluded, are ruthlessly sacrificed to that inexorable rush of 
creativity which rises to a wild crescendo before crashing 



over in a turbulent finale, leaving him drained. He himself 
has said that he usually has to go to bed for at least a day 
or two to restore his nerves after finishing a picture. My 
father was not the only one to be drained at such times. 
Everyone associated with him during these periods, either 
at the suidio or at home, was drained too; drained, limp and 
more than ready to call it quits. Such is life with a creative 
perfectionist, but of course with a genius in the house you 
can’t expect an atmosphere of sustained normalcy. Syd and 
I not only didn’t expect it, we took our lives for granted until 
we got older. 

The more or less tranquil home atmosphere which I have 
described in the preceding chapter took place in the trough 
between two waves — between City Lights, which had passed 
over us, and Modern Times, which was on the way. It was, 
comparatively speaking, a comfortable period, if you could 
dismiss from mind the uneasy agitation of the water below and 
the steady building of the heavy roller behind. 

It took my father more than two years to complete the 
script of Modern Times, which he had begun immediately 
after his trip abroad in 1932. He always progressed slowly, 
at first in an almost leisurely fashion. He loved to write, any- 
way, much as Dickens, the writer, loved to act. Dad told me 
once that he tried to make a practice of putting down five 
hundred words a day on any subject, just to keep in prac- 
tice. But by the time Syd and 1 first started going up to 
the house. Modern Times was heading for the home stretch. 
It was to go into actual production the next October. 

As the press of ideas came faster and faster, and Dad’s 
writing began to take up more and more of his time, Syd and 
I became familiar with that strange, inwardly directed con- 
centration which had made life so difficult and lonely for 
Mildred Harris and my mother. Now when we came home 
from school Dad would be down in the living room ostensi- 
bly to greet us. But ten to one some idea would have caught 



him just before we came in and he would be sitting at his 
table working. 

I remember the first time, one Friday afternoon, we burst 
in on him that way. 

“Hi, Father, what’s new?” we shouted, expecting him to 
reply cheerfully, as always. 

He only looked up with an irritated frown and a dazed 
shake of his head. 

“Don’t bother me. Don’t bother me,” he said in a brusque 
monotone. “I’m in the middle of something. Cio on, go on 
now. Play with your friends.” And with a flourish of one 
hand he indicated the door. 

Amazed and mortified, Syd and [ stole off. 

“What’s the matter with Dad anyway?” we asked each 
other a little resentfully. 

We wandered around outside and the resentment began 
to die away. Instead I kept thinking of him sitting at the table, 
his head bent, the brown-rimmed glasses perched on his nose, 
his hand racing with the pencil over the ^•ellow, lined note- 
book paper. I stole back to the living room and peeked 
around the corner of the hall door. 

Dad was still working. Once he stopped to stare into space, 
ab.sent-mindedly caressing the top sheet of the pad between 
his fingers with the same tender, absorbed e.xjtrcssion on his 
face that I saw when he was eating. He treated the pad as 
lovingly as though it were something precious, a rare old 
parchment perhaps. 

I stood there in the doorway uncertainly but he didn’t 
even look at me. I stole in quietly and sat down and waited. 
Dad had gone back to his writing. Then suddenly he finished 
with a flt)urish and jumped to his feet and saw me. 

He grabbed up the paper and hurried over and stood be- 
fore me just as though he had expected me to he there all 
the while, as though it were natural for me to be with him, 
waiting, just waiting silently and wishing him well. 



“Now what do you think of this, Charles?” he exclaimed. 
“It’ll be in the next picture.” 

And before I had a chance to say anything he launched 
into a description, reading his idea aloud, acting it out as he 
went along, as if I were a whole audience. “The birds will be 
singing . . . the woods will be calm and quiet . . . the Little 
Fellow . . .” 

“How do you like it?” he asked anxiously when he had 
finished. And he added as if he were speaking of someone 
else’s work, “Isn’t that a lovely thing?” 

“It’s great,” I answered him quickly. I could only think 
that Dad had read his work aloud to me. He had asked me 
my opinion of it. I had a place to fill — to listen. 

After that, when Dad was working I would often sit quietly 
in the room with him. Sometimes he would go out and walk, 
with head bent, along the meandering paths of his hill, wrest- 
ling with his ideas. And I would tag along behind him, some- 
times Syd with me, just waiting for that glorious moment 
when Dad would whirl round, his eyes sparkling, his voice 

“I’ve got it, boys. Just listen to this.” 

Another phenomenon of which Syd and I were made 
painfully aware during this period was our father’s in- 
creasing absent-mindedness. We would get permission to 
engage in some venture. But when we started to carry out 
our plans. Dad, who always kept his word with us if pos- 
sible, would suddenly explode without warning, and then, to 
his chagrin, discover that he had forgotten all about his 
promise. It added to the uncertainty of life around the 

Syd and I quickly learned, for purposes of self-preservation, 
how to read the signs and govern our conduct accordingly. 
When Dad was happy he sang. How he would sing! Snatches 
from operas, from his favorite ditties, or stand-bys from his old 



music-hall days. One of his favorites ran, to the best of my 
recollection, something like this; 

“Oh, ever since that fatal night 
Me wife’s gone mad, 

Awfully queer, touched just here.” (With this he 
would always point to his head.) 

“Bad, bad, bad! 

In the middle of the night 

She’d sneak the sheets and walk round my bed post. 
Singing ‘Hamlet, Hamlet, Hamlet, 

I am thy father’s ghost.’ ” 

He liked to sing his own tunes also. “Will You Buy My 
Pretty Flowers?” from City Lights was a favorite of his. 

He would sing in the shower. I le would sing while he was 
getting ready to go out of an evening. You could hear him 
all over the house — away dow nstairs, even outside. You could 
hear his voice all over the top of the hill. And Syd and I 
would relax. We knew it was going to be a wonderful week 

Then there were those unhappy days when we would 
find our father plunged in one of his peculiar spells of moodi- 
ness, with which everyone who knows him well is familiar. 
Dad never had the hai)it of talking to himself unless he was 
reading some lines aloud which he had just w'ritten. When 
he was depressed he was usually just quiet — very quiet. Any- 
thing might bring on these spells — even the account of a 
tragedy in the newspaper could upset him — but they usually 
visited him when he felt deserted by the creative impulse, 
when he would wait in vain for ideas that wouldn’t come. 
It was as though he were bound hand and foot in some 
dark dungeon of the mind. Then the pencil would lie 
motionless, the yellow pad unused. Sometimes he would walk 
over his paths, but there would be no spring to his step. He 
would drag himself along. 



Sometimes he would be standing at the living-room win- 
dow, perfectly motionless, staring out, with his hands be- 
hind his back, the fingers of one hand tap, tap, tapping upon 
the wrist of the other, or, if he were sitting, tapping his 
knees in the same abstracted manner. He would not see us 
when we came in, nor hear us when we went out. 

Finally, when he had stewed within himself long enough, 
he would make a move to break the spell. The cure was 
simple. He would put in an urgent call to a friend to come 
up and have a game of tennis with him. I don’t know what 
Dad’s fonn is like now, but he was a delight to watch on 
the tennis courts in those early days. A left-handed player 
— Dad is left-handed in everything except writing — he played 
as gracefully, as effortlessly as he performed his most intri- 
cate pantomime routines. 

Not only did Dad practice tennis every afternoon at home, 
but he made a point of fitting it into his life when he traveled. 
Dad went to New York about twice a year, usually accom- 
panied by Tim Durant, whose former home is in the h>ast. 
When they went by train they would sometimes go aboard 
in their tennis clothes. As soon as they hit Chicago, between 
trains. Dad would telephone and find a place where he could 
play. He’d play one game and then go back to the train. It 
was the same when he reached New York. He’d stay at the 
River Club, and as soon as he got there he’d be right out on 
the courts. 

What liquor, sex, religion are to other men, tennis has 
always been to my father. He seems to find some kind of 
mystical release in it. I have seen him dragging himself down 
to the court, gloomy and depressed, and begin to play. But 
with the first lob of that ball over the net Dad would change. 
He would become alert, graceful, concentrated. It was im- 
possible for him to focus his attention both on a tennis game 
outside and on the core of darkness within him. By the time 
the game was over that darkness would be completely dissi- 
pated and Dad would be his old self again — especially if he 
had won the game. 



My father is egocentric, but only those closest to him real- 
ize on how sensitive a base that egoccntricity rests. A word, a 
gesture can deflate him; a fear that his creative powers have 
forever deserted him can plunge him into the depths of gloom. 
At times like these, to win a game of tennis always bolstered 
him immeasurably, and his friends, who usually gave him a 
run for his money, would take care not to put up too much of 
a game, so that he would be sure to win. 

As the bright spring days lengthened toward the hot Cal- 
ifornia summer. Dad moved at a faster and faster tempo. His 
dark moods became more pronounced, his flashes of anger 
more frequent. The air of suspense and tension affected 
everyone in the house. We were all one in the great push 
ahead. It was as though our father, wdth us as his timorous 
army, w^ere heading for Waterloo. Fear of failure, the peren- 
nial curse of the perfectionist, w as plaguing him. 

With the near-completion of his script, Dad took on an- 
other chore, coaching Paulette for the part she was to play. I 
remember those long hours he spent w ith licr, either in the 
living room or dowm at the tennis courts. It w^as Paulette’s 
first big part and she w^as grateful for the chance. And Dad 
w as patient in his role of teacher. 

But of course it wms something far more fundamental than 
his pleasure in teaching that motivated my father. It was his 
almost ruthless determination for perfection. He and Paulette 
would go through the same scene over and over, Dad pound- 
ing and pounding away after the effect he wanted. Paulette 
was game. She would work until she w as ready to drop wath 
wo'ariness. Dad never seemed to get tired. So far as I can recall, 
though he lost his temper on so many other occasions, he 
would never lose it or even raise his voice wdiile coaching 
Paulette, no matter liow many times they had to repeat the 
scene. But his nervous intensitv w^as more wearing, perhaps, 
than a sudden explosion might have been. And he absolutely 
refused to be satisfied wfith second-best, even in the most 
minute gesture or facial expression. 



“Try it again. Try it again. Try it again.” 

That phrase must have hounded Paulette even in her 
dreams. Sometimes she was reduced to tears at the sense of her 
own inadequacy. 

“Oh, Charlie, Charlie, I’m not an actress,” she would cry 
out. “I’m just not an actress.” 

And Syd and I, peeking from our hiding place at the 
tableau, would long to rush out and protect her, to snatch her 
away from Dad’s ruthless coaching. For she was nonnally so 
gay, so young, almost like us, and we could not bear to see 
her unhappy. She really didn’t need to be perfect, we told 
ourselves. She was pretty enough to make up for everything. 

But Dad didn’t share our view. He just went doggedly on, 
day after day, week after week, fashioning the beloved pixie 
gamin of Modern Times. 


That summer of ’34, Dad began to prepare for the actual 
production of Modern Times. He didn’t need to reactivate 
his studio. He had his personnel intact, because during those 
past four years he had kept eveiy'one on the payroll even 
when things were closed down completely. 

I think it worthy of note that my father adhered to this 
ethical practice from the very first, when there were no 
unions and other studios were summarily dismissing their 
workers at the close of each production and rehiring them 
when ncccssarv'. His consideration accounts for the extraor- 
dinary loyalty his employees felt toward him, a loyalty which 
was noted by the whole town and commented on by the 
newspapers at the time. 



My father was as loyal to those who had worked for him 
as they were to him. When Frank Antunez, Sr., head of his 
transportation department, was incapacitated with a heart 
attack. Dad dismissed him from work but went on paying his 
salary. I know he took care of many of his old associates, 
like Edna Purviance, his former leading lady, and Roland 
Totheroh, his cameraman from silent-film days. I can’t tell 
you how many profited from his generosity because he was 
never ostentatious about it. But I do know that the rapport 
between employer and employee at Dad’s studio made it seem 
almost like a family affair. 

Since we were out of school and could visit our father dur- 
ing the week as well as on week ends, Syd and 1 had more op- 
portunity to see the preparations going on at the studio, for 
Dad would take us along with him. Once inside the gates his 
attitude seemed to change. He became excited, exuberant. 
However it might be with him in the outside world, here he 
was the undisputed lord whose every word was law. Young 
as I was, I couldn’t fail to notice how everyone from car- 
penters and prop men to the production managers greeted 
him deferentially. They seemed to be as much in awe of him 
as I. 

There was just one man, really, who spoke up to Dad at his 
studio. That was his long-time associate A If Reeves, business 
manager of the Chaplin studios. I remember Alf sitting behind 
his desk in a dark, paneled office that seemed to be lighted 
only by the gigantic diamond in the ring he wore. I le would 
get provoked with Dad if he came snooping around there too 

“Now, Charlie, get out. I’m busy,” he would say in that 
broad Cockney accent which he never lost despite his years 
in America, and Dad would walk right out without an argu- 

Alf’s was the only office in his studio from which anyone 
could drive him. He was the head of all the others. He was 
the writer, the producer, the director, the chief designer, the 



composer, the film cutter, the makeup man. He was every- 
thing. Just look at the credits on a Chaplin film. 

He had in his employ some of the best budget men in the 
country, and heaven knows he drove them relentlessly. But 
even then he couldn’t refrain from putting in his two bits’ 
worth of advice. 1 le would haggle with his production man- 
agers by the hour over the expense of a nominally priced 
prop. And yet Modern Times cost him more than a million 
and a half dollars to produce, and that was an astronomical 
fi'riire for budgets in those days. 

Dad has always been an anomalv where money is con- 
cerned, so jnuch so that legends along this line have sprung 
up about him in Hollywood. One of these is that when Dad 
.signed with .Mutual be demanded a thousanJ and r\vcnt) -ri\’e 
dollars as a weekly salary instead of the fiat thousand offered 
him, explaining that he wanted the twenty-five extra to 
live on. 

Whenever he went out to eat he would tip the waiter only 
ten percent of the meal, no matter how good the service was 
— especially if he thought it was due to his having been rec- 
ogni'/cd. He was particular about that ten percent. Because 
he didn’t trust his own arithmetic, he would hand the bill over 
to Paulette or Syd or me and have one of us figure out the 
right amount— to the last penny. 

Then he might go right down the block and tip an unsus- 
pecting barber five dollars for doing a good job without 
knowing who he was. I Tc would go to all lengths to save odds 
and ends of things, even stubs of pencils. He would worry 
inordinately over the misplacement of one. 

“Pencils cost money, you know.” 

He so imbued his Modern Times crew' with his ideas of 
thrift that they kept a lookout during the shooting to 
save him dollars, even pennies. I'hcre’s the story of how they 
haggled with the owner of a house they wanted to use for a 
location scene until they brought the rental fee down from 
the normal twenty-five dollars a day to five. But they carried 



the thrift even further by refusing to pay more than the 
initial five on the excuse that the first and second day’s film 
hadn’t turned out right and they were back on the third day 
only for retakes. 

At the same time Dad could drop big sums with a shrug. 
It was as though when they became large enough he lost all 
concept of their reality. Joseph M. Schenck, the producer, 
who later had serious tax troubles himself, tells the story of 
how Dad reacted to the discovery that he was far in arrears 
on his taxes. There was some close dickering back and forth 
between his la^vyers and Uncle Sam. Mr. Schenck remembers 
the outcome, for he was with Dad in his hotel room in New 
York when his lawyers finally brought the news. 

“We’ve agreed to pay the million,” they said a little fear- 
fully, expecting Dad to hit the ceiling. 

But my father only got up and walked over to the piano 
as though he didn’t have a care in the world. 

“Well, I’m glad that’s over,” he said. “Let’s have some fun.” 
And he sat down and began playing. 

Dad was often so swamped with work now that he would 
sometimes telephone and ask Syd and me not to come up at 
all. We felt the banishment keenly. We had already made 
good friends with the neighborhood children. There were 
the three Krisel brothers across the street from us. Their father 
had been a judge in China in earlier days, and the whole fam- 
ily could speak Chinese. There were the Harold Lloyds, who 
lived down the bill and around the corner in a palatial mansion 
with grounds more spacious by far than ours. The Lloyds 
even had a nine-hole golf course, and a swimming pool which, 
with its stately tree-lined avenue and its fountains, looked 
like something that belonged to the Taj Mahal. 

Syd and I liked to visit the Lloyd girls, Peggy and Gloria. 
From the very first I had a crush on Gloria, though I never 
dated her. Sometimes the girls would come up to see us with 
their small brother, Harold, Jr., tagging along behind. We and 



the Kriscl brothers and the Lloyds and several others all had 
a lot of fun together over the week ends. So Syd and I would 
find the temerity to beg Dad to change his mind. He was not 
above compromise. 

“Well, all right, if you keep to yourselves,” he would say, 
relenting at last. 

Syd and I knew that this partial reprieve didn’t extend to 
our friends. We had long since learned never to them to 
the house without first getting Dad’s permission, because 
when Dad was in one of his recluse moods and didn’t want 
anyone around he could be embarrassing. 

“How do you do?” he would say shortly, and then retreat 
hastily upstairs, not to be seen again until our guests left. Later 
he would rebuke us. 

“You should have more respect for your father. You should 
let him know before you bring anyone up.” 

All through that summer Dad continued his relentless work 
with Paulette, both at home and at the studio, and Syd and 1 
continued feeling sorry for her. And yet we needn’t have, 
really. Paulette had her own bright ways. She knew how to 
wheedle in the most winning way. 

“Oh, Charlie, you reall)- should take time off,” she would 
say. “Let’s all have some fun today. It’ll be wonderful for the 
boys too.” 

Paulette always brought us in, both because she had be- 
come very fond of us and because she had learned Dad could 
be touched by playing on his father instincts. The intimation 
that he was neglecting us would act like a charge to his en- 
ergies. He would knock off work — the coaching, the confer- 
ences, the studio details — and he and Paulette and Syd and I 
would go on an all-day jaunt. 

Usually we chose the Amusement Pier down at Ocean 
Park. During the long drive to the ocean Dad used to beguile 
us with Tarzan stories. 1 remember sitting in the back seat of 
the car while he spun them for us by the ream. They didn t 
come from the Edgar Rice Burroughs books, though. I doubt 



if Dad ever read one of those in his life. They were his own 
incredible, involved versions of the ape-man melodrama. 

Inside the Amusement Pier gates, Syd and I would suddenly 
discover that Paulette and Dad weren’t any older than we. 
Dad’s eyes gleamed, and he walked along ^^'ith a springy step 
as he looked from side to side. The honky-tonk, hurdy-gurdy 
air of the place always excited and delighted him. 

Syd and I loved the roller coaster and sometimes Paulette 
joined us on the ride. But we could never persuade Dad to try 
it. He much preferred the Ferris wheel and he thought the 
chute-the-chute, which Syd and I considered tame, an excit- 
ing ride. But most of all he preferred the various concessions 
where marksmanship could be tested by throwing balls at 
milk bottles or rings over stakes. His favorite was the one with 
the little pig that, when the target was hit, would come w.ilk- 
ing across the ramp, slither down a child’s slide and go back 
in again. Dad would laugh as hard as anyone at that little pig. 

Dad had visited the Amusement Pier so often through the 
years that all the proprietors recognized him and knew his 

“Hey, Charlie, come on over here. Try this one,” they 
would call out as he went by. 

“Charlie, come here! Charlie!” 

Sometimes Dad was irritated by the clamor he stirred up. 
He would stare straight ahead as though he hadn’t heard a 

“Now don’t listen to them,” he’d mutter to Syd and me con- 
spiratorially. “Wc’ll just play the ones wc want.” 

Though Dad was left-handed he was an extremely accurate 
marksman. He religiously collected his tickets and in the end 
redeemed them in Kewpies or stuffed animals. When the con- 
cessionaires tried to palm off the smaller prizes on him, Dad 
would shake his head and doggedly count out his tickets again 
for them to see. Even in stuffed animals, which he always 
turned over to Syd and me anyway, he didn’t like to have 
anyone trying to put something over on him. 



Dad would come home from these jaunts beaming and re- 
freshed. The next day he would plunge again into his work, 
just as though there were no beckoning Amusement Pier, no 
hurdy-gurdy music, gay lights and sounds of carnival to 
tempt him. 

As the production date of Modern Thnes neared. Dad 
began to keep a watchful guard over his two chronic ailments 
— a nervous stomach and colds. Me was a great one for home 
remedies when things hadn’t got out of hand. 

One of his favorite antidotes for a sour stomach was Alka- 
Seltzer. Every now and then, when he felt one was in the 
offing, he wcmld take an AJka-.ScIrzcr after dinner just to fore- 
stall if. Almost every night that summer Frank would bring 
in a tablet and a glass of water without being asked, and Dad 
would religiously drink it down. 

To guard against colds, he would sleep with only one win- 
dow slightly open, or if he felt the weather was very in- 
clement, with all his windows closed. He looked upon drafts 
as extremely dangerous, even in the warmest weather. He 
would be working and absorbed in something when a stirring 
of air would bring him suddenly to attention. He would glance 
all around for the olTending breeze, find a vvindow barely 
open and get it closed in a trice. Sometimes 1 would find 
him bundled up not only in his sweater but in a robe as well. 

“I have them on because I’m perspiring now and I don’t 
want to catch cold,” he would explain to me. 

I lis concern over his health was no indication of hypochon- 
dria, however. He would beat himself unmercifully during 
production, sometimes missing both meals and sleep. lie was 
afraid of illness for only one reason — the amount of produc- 
tion money it would cost if he had to stop work, as had hap- 
pened on City Lights. 


As he had with City Lights, my father pondered long over 
whether to make Modern Times a silent picture or a talkie. 
He was still of the opinion that silent pictures alone repre- 
sented true cinema art and that artistic values were lessened 
in proportion to every decrease in the use of the imagination. 
He felt that talkies were concerned too little with art, too 
much with commercialism. 

At the time the movie-going public was being fed massive 
doses of very voluble comics. There were the new men like 
Wheeler and Woolsey, and Joe E. Brown. There were the 
old silent-picture comedians who had successfully crossed over 
to talkies, men like Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, and 
Harold Lloyd. Harold Lloyd’s meteoric rise to success on 


situation-type comedy gave Dad special cause for concern. 
He had to ask himself whether the public had been completely 
weaned away from his own kind of tragicomic pantomime. 

On the other hand, he was worried about taking the plunge 
into talkies, not only because he still felt that his Little Fellow 
had no place in them, but also because he wasn’t sure whether 
his voice would go over on the screen. In the end his solid 
conservatism, ini.vcd with his reticence about tackling the un- 
familiar, made Dad shy away from direct competition with 
Lloyd and the other talking comics. He handed his Little 
Tramp one more reprieve and decided to make Modem Times 
a silent movie. 

Everyone in Moll) wood thought my father was crazy. 
While other producers like Jesse Lasky, David O. Selznick 
and Cecil B. Dc Mille were studying new ways of improving 
talkies. Dad was stubbornly clinging to the passe era of silent 
film. People began to think of him somewhat patronizingly as 
a former Hollywood great who was now a has-been, unable to 
adjust himself to the new techniques. Me was finished in pic- 
tures — you heard that all over town. 

Fall came. Our mother went back East to fulfill her singing 
engagements. Syd and I returned unhappily to our cramped 
military existence at Black-Foxe. At Dad’s orders Paulette 
changed her hair back to its natural brunette coloring. And in 
October the production of Modern Times began. 

Gone were Dad’s days even of semileisure now, days he 
could arrange for himself. He might be late for other appoint- 
ments or social engagements, but he was never late to work — 
he usually got there at seven in the morning — and neither was 
anyone who ever worked for him. Lateness in a studio costs 
money and one person can keep a whole crew idle. 

Usually Kay would drive Dad to the studio, sometimes Dad 
would drive himself. Often Frank would go with him to help 
with his costumes and act as general liaison man. 

Syd and I were once more restricted to week ends with 

1 1 1 


Dad. But in those days, unions had not yet established a forty- 
hour week and there was no such thing as a Saturday off when 
my father was working. So Syd and I had the opportunity on 
week ends of accompanying" him to the studio. 

Dad’s mood for the day was always conditioned by what 
he had seen in the ruslies the night before. If they had been 
good he would come to work buoyant, and the day would go 
forward smoothly. If not, he would drive himself and the 
whole cast and crew relentlessly, and everyone would have 
a difficult time of it. 

I remember tagging along with Dad, feeling very important 
as his son while he checked the sets and went over the produc- 
tion chart for the day’s shooting. Finally we would move on 
to makeup. Once again, as in our younger days, we had the 
delight of watching Dad transform huuself into the Little 
Tramp before our eyes. 

As soon as he had become the Little Tramp, Dad stayed 
that way until he drove out of the studio gates at night and 
was finally relinquished by his alter ego. He never stepped 
out of character even when he became upset about something, 
but would go shuffling around in those oversize shoes, grimac- 
ing and gesticulating with all the Little Tramp mannerisms. 
It was an odd thing to Syd and me to see the whimsical char- 
acter who was always so ebullient on the screen acting short- 
tempered and brusque. 

As soon as Dad had his makeup on, we would follow him 
once again out on the set, the stage that had been closed and 
idle for almost five years. Once more we were in that magical 
revivified fairyland. But now we were older and better able 
to appreciate the sets in themselves. Not only that, but now 
the chief set at the studio was far more elaborate than any- 
thing in City Lights had been. Detail in background was my 
father’s one concession to the new world of picture making. 
The set represented the interior of a factory. But no one in a 
thousand years could have guessed what was being manufac- 
tured there. It looked like something out of a nightmare, with 
its gigantic gadgets, wheels and whirring assembly lines. 



How Syd and I loved that assembly-line sequence, with 
Dad trying desperately to keep up the pace and shaking un- 
controllably and automatically whenever there was a lull in 
production! And how we howled over the ridiculous exhibi- 
tion of Dad being fed nuts and bolts and a corn cob by an 
automatic feeding machine gone wrong. We screamed hilari- 
ously when the board above the door of the little shack kept 
falling down and hitting him on the head every time he went 
through. And it almost proved too much for us when finally, 
after performing all kinds of gyrations, he took a big somer- 
sault into the water and landed in about two inches of it — a 
concealed mattress underneath breaking his fall. 

In later years Dad was to explain to me the secret of his 
success in comedy — of the success of most comedy, actually. 

“You can use the unexpected to some extent to get a laugh,’' 
he used to say. “lint the gag that is sure to go over is the one 
where the audience has been tipped off in advance. Thar’s why 
I like to use old gags. Like the diving scene — it’s been done so 
many times everyone is already familiar with what is going to 
happen. All you have to worry about is your interpretation.” 

My father’s interpretations are alvvav's unique. He has the 
ability to pull funny pieces of business right out of the air, so 
that with his clever innovations the hoariest gags look brand- 

Watching the play-acting from the sidelines was just fun for 
Syd and me, but it was real work for the actors and the crew. 
Though Dad was the Little Fellow now, nice but ineffectual 
against the powers of the world, he was at the same time the 
famous, awe-inspiring director who literally held the destinies 
of that company in his hands. I’ve talked to many people who 
have said to me, “Oh, I was terrified the whole time I was 
working for your father.” 

It wasn’t just his fame that intimidated them. It was the 
magnetic intensity of his perfectionist drive that kept them all 
on edge. If props were out of line by so much as a couple of 
inches, if the lights weren’t in place, or even if he were handed 
a dull pencil he was likely to blow his top. 



“Damn it, do I have to do all this myself?” he would ex- 
plode. And at this point he would seldom fail to remind the 
culprit, as be did Frank, “Remember, I’m paying you to do a 
good job.” 

Dad might allow a green crew member a few niistakes, but 
if he made too many too early in the game he would be 
peremptorily fired. The actual firing would be taken care of 
by Alf Reeves in the outer office, because, just as at home, 
Dad couldn’t bear to dismiss anyone, no matter how ineffi- 
cient. Nor would he ever rehire anyone so fired, though he 
might contribute money to the man’s family if he learned it 
was destitute. To him inefficiency was a major crime. On the 
other hand, if a man proved himself in my father’s employ he 
could count on a permanent job. Dad was scrupulously loyal 
with his employees that way. 

With actors M’ho couldn’t get a scene he was more patient 
than with inefficient stagehands, but in that seething, nervous 
way that could upset them more than an outright explosion. 
Sometimes, to get the exact effect he wanted, he would dem- 
onstrate a piece of business, showing them how to cross tlie 
room, how to sit down, how to make the gestures. He was im- 
patient with the actors when they couldn’t seem to catch on 
the first time. He would repeat the gestures with lightning 
speed, as he did so explaining what he wanted in a low, fast 
monotone. But the actor, upset to begin with, couldn’t under- 
stand the monologue and still couldn’t mimic Dad’s gestures. 

“Look, look, look! No, no, no!” my father would exclaim. 
“Try it again! Try it again! Try it again!” And at last, when 
he was in the final throes of desperation, he would get what 
he wanted. 

While taking in the overall scene to see that it was exactly 
how he had pictured it when writing the script. Dad’s quick 
eye would concern itself with such insignificant details as the 
position of an actor’s hand or the tilt of his head. Nothing 
seemed to escape him. I’ve wondered occasionally if, when 
Dad is directing, he even sees actors as flesh-and-blood peo- 


pie, I feel that sometimes he treats them more like dolls, or 
statues to be arranged to achieve the pictorial scene he has in 
mind. And I think it is this quality that gives his pictures their 
air of almost symbolic hntasy. 

WJien Dad was engrossed, he lost all conception of time. 
Lunch hour might come and go without a break, especially 
as no one could find the temerity to interrupt and tell him 
that it was twelve noon. Sometimes it would be as late as two 
o’clock before he would come to his senses and dismiss the 
company for an hour. Syd and I always took lunch with Dad 
in his dressing room. 

“Well, how’d you like what we did this morning, eh?” he’d 
say, if he were pleased. But he knew already, for his eye had 
been quick to take in our responses even while he was work- 
ing. I was more aware now than when I was younger of how 
Dad was always watching to sec how his comedy business 
went over with the workmen around the set — the prop men, 
the cameramen, the grips, the gaffers, the carpenters. Dad 
used to tell me that he learned from the beginning to please 
only himself in his acting, because he found that when he 
tried too hard to be funny just to satisfy others, everything 
fell flat. But I have noticed that although he feels pleasing one- 
self is the only sure way of putting over comedy, he needs 
the laughter of those around him to bolster his ego and keep 
him going. 

After lunch Dad would go back to work again, driving the 
company all afternoon and sometimes late into the evening. 
He seemed to be tireless, bounding everywhere, showing the 
same alert attention for every detail as in the morning. By late 
afternoon, when the rest of the company would be drooping 
and listless. Dad’s energy stood out in even stronger contrast. 

“My God, that Chaplin!” you could hear the people around 
muttering, “He never gets tired.” 

Only Syd and I knew the truth about that, because only 
Syd and 1 saw him after work. On Friday afternoons when 
school let out and we went to the house on the hill we would 



find it empty. Even though the servants were there it seemed 
empty to us without Dad. He alone seemed to fill it and to 
make it come alive. It was as though it, too, like the servants, 
like Syd and me, felt itself to be a part of him — just an exten- 
sion of him in space. 

Syd and I would play with our friends awhile, but as the 
afternoon lengthened we would keep thinking of Dad, what 
he was doing, when he would be back. When the time drew 
near for his return, we would usually be sitting on the front 
steps with our elbows on our knees, our chins its our hands, 
keeping a vigil for him. 

At last the long black limousine with Kay at the wheel 
would pull round the circular drive, and Syd and 1 would dash 
down the steps to greet it. Kay would stop in front, come 
around and open the door. And we would sec the Little Fel- 
low sitting inside, still in makeup, still wearing his silly mus- 
tache, his head against the back of the scat, relaxed and half 

“Mr. Chapilaine, we arc home,” Kay would say deferen- 

The Little Fellow, still in his baggy trousers because he had 
been too tired to change, but minus the tight-fitting jacket, 
the too-big shoes and the too-small derby, would suddenly 
rouse himself and peer out. 

“Hello, boys,” he would say in a half-da/.cd way, seeing us. 
“Oh, we had a day today! We had a day!” 

Kay would help him out of the car. 

“Let us help you too, Dad,” Syd and I would say eagerly. 

Kay would take one arm, and Syd or I would take the 
other, to help him up the steps. He would walk slowly into 
the house, looking and acting more lifeless than anyone I’ve 
ever seen. We would go inside, climb the circular staircase 
and pass on down the hall to the master bedroom. 7'herc Dad 
would flop on his bed. Syd and I would sit beside him talking, 
until Frank arrived to help him undress. 

“Dad, may we stick around?” I would ask when Frank 



showed up. Dad was always so drowsy I thought we might 
irritate him being there. But he seemed to welcome our com- 

“Sure, sure, stick around, boys,” he’d say. And then he’d 
add, not so much as an afterthought but more as an apology, 
“I’m so tired . . . very tired.” 

1 Ic would lie there while Frank removed his shoes and socks, 
his shirt and baggy pants. Stripped to his underwear, he would 
remain sprawled on the bed. Presently, however, the sight of 
Syd and me sitting there watching him became more than he 
could resist. After he’d relaxed a little he would get off the 
bed and go over to the mirror and start hamming it up for us. 
First he would make a few faces at himself, and then at Syd 
and me. Then he would begin to pull the mustache off, pull- 
ing it in sections as he had done when I was a baby, and mak- 
ing the most horrible grimaces all the while. 

“These are the pitfalls to becoming an actor,” Dad would 
say with a scowl, and a savage yank. “Ninety-nine percent 
sweat” — another yank — “and one percent talent. . . Oh,” he 
would add after a pause and a quick look at us, “and that one 
percent better be good. 

“There! Now!” he would exclaim with a last jerk. “Do I 
look like your father again?” Then he’d sponge off his upper 
lip with alcohol and give us another grimace. 

Next Dad would put on his tcrrycloth robe and head for 
the bathroom and his steam room. The steam room, which 
was about five feet across and perhaps eight or nine in length, 
had a marble slab along one side. When Dad turned on a 
faucet the steam would come gushing out of a vent. Dad 
would lie down on the slab in his terrycloth robe and stay 
there for perhaps as long as three-quarters of an hour, though 
it was so hot that I could scarcely stand it, completely naked. 

That steam bath .seemed to revive him amazingly. Often he 
would be refreshed enough to go out to dinner, though he 
would always make a point of returning home early, since he 
had to get up the next morning for work. Sometimes, how- 



ever, Dad was too tired to be revived by the steam bath, and 
then he would go to bed for the evening and have his dinner 
sent up to him. 

Though Dad gave himself a physical beating every day of 
work, I’m sure much of his weariness came from emotional 
stress, for I saw that it was most noticeable when everything 
at the studio had been at sixes and sevens. 

“You know, it’s so hard trying to be funny when you have 
to be and you don’t feel like it,” he used to confide in Syd 
and me sometimes as we sat sympathetically by his bed. 

He was the greatest comedian in the world. What could 
eight- and nine-year-old boys say to comfort the greatest 
comedian in the world when he feels washed out, deserted, 
abandoned by the comic muse? 

“I just didn’t get over,” Dad would go on. “I couldn’t make 
anyone laugh. I had a very bad day. Very bad. Tsh tsh tsh.” 

Some days the mood of depression would strike Dad before 
he even left home. “Golly, I don’t want to go to that studio,” 
he’d say. 

He would drag himself down, resigned from the start to a 
drab day. But sometimes right at the beginning of shooting, 
a prat fall or some other piece of business he hadn’t thought 
so funny might cause a wave of merriment. Buoyed up by the 
unexpected applause. Dad’s mood would change. He would 
get so interested in what he was doing that he would work 
until late in the evening. 

Sometimes, though, the depression would persist. Then Dad 
would shoot only until one o’clock or so, dismiss the company 
and relax the rest of the afternoon. 

The next morning would see him on the set again. He sel- 
dom took time off like this, but when he did he would usually 
try to make it up. If the mood was with him he might stick 
to it till eleven o’clock at night, driving his company and 
crew along with him in that relentless way he had. Though 
Dad’s pictures took longer than most to complete, he worked 
on a much more rigid schedule than most studios in town. It 

1 18 


was just that, being such a perfectionist, he had to do many 
tilings over and over again — especially over and over again 
where Modern Times was concerned. 

Every day he was forcefully reminded of how he was stick- 
ing his neck out. His silent-picture making was the gossip of 
the town. There were lugubrious headshakes from his fellow 
producers and friends and tongue-in-cheek speculations by 
columnists. Sometimes he must have been appalled himself at 
his own conservatism. 


That fall of 1934, while in the midst of producing Modem 
Times, my father was troubled by another kidnaping threat 
against us. A studio workman reported that he had overheard 
a conversation that sounded suspiciously like a plot to abduct 
us. Dad would have dismissed that as mere barroom talk if a 
few days later he hadn’t received an anonymous threatening 

He acted at once with his usual flamboyant thoroughness. 
He hired bodyguards for us — or at least he issued a statement 
to the press that he was doing so, for I don’t remember ever 
seeing these stalwart protectors of ours in person. He also an- 
nounced that he had converted both the studio and his hill 
estate into arsenals with guns trained on every approach. 



I know Dad was genuinely worried. Even long after the 
incident he continued to be troubled every time he read of a 
kidnaping in the papers. And when sometimes in our careless- 
ness we would go off visiting with friends and fail to return 
on time, we would find him waiting for us in a state of high 

“Where were you? Where were you?” he would demand, 
turning on us sternly. “I was afraid you might have been kid- 
naped. Don’t you realize you’re worrying your father to 
death? He’s getting grayer than he is gray.” And with this 
Dad would run his fingers nervously through his handsome 
hair — hair that had actually started graying in his early youth. 

From Thanksgiving to Christmas of that year my father 
was completely tied up in production, which among many 
other things included a hurried business trip to New York. 
But fortunately Syd and I had Paulette, who managed to 
squeeze in time for us. She took us to football games and the 
zoo and often to lunch at the Brown Derby. It was Paulette 
who planned Christmas for us that year, buying us our pres- 
ents from Dad. 

Her principal contribution was as impractical as it was de- 
lightful. It was a motor glide, a little gasoline-powered cart. 
I’m sure when she bought it Paulette didn’t stop to consider 
that our house was at the top of a steep hill, with cars coming 
fast around the curving street on which our private road 
opened. Syd and I had fun with that glide from the first. It 
was an object of pleasure and curiosity to the whole house. 
Even Frank and Dad tried it out. Dad rode it around sedately, 
pleased as we were with the daring putt-putt of the motor. 
Syd and I couldn’t help slyly poking a little condescending 
fun at his cautious rate of speed. 

We were different. We would fly down that hill and burst 
out on the highway below, often just missing passing cars. 
Sometimes we would hit an obstruction in the road and be 
flung from the glide into the middle of the street. I came 



home once with a bump as big as a goose egg on my forehead, 
and Dad surveyed it with horror, his fancy, as usual, pictur- 
ing dreadful scenes of carnage in which Syd’s and my battered 
and bloody corpses were the principal feature. He pleaded 
with us to be more careful, but he never once threatened to 
deprive us of the glide. There is a peculiar integrity of convic- 
tion in my father that, coupled with his stubbornness, has 
caused him a lot of trouble in his life. The glide was ours, and 
I don’t think it ever entered his mind that he had the right as 
a father to take it away from us. 

There were others besides Dad who were concerned about 
the motor glide, but for a different reason. They were our 
neighbors, the David O. Selznicks, who dearly loved their 
morning sleep. The raucous motor of the glide shattered the 
quiet day completely for them. They complained fruitlessly 
about the noise, as they were to do later when Big Bill Tildcn 
gave tennis lessons on Dad’s court at seven in the morning. 
After Dad married Paulette, I believe she got a little fun now 
and then out of teasing the Selznicks by encouraging us to get 
at our demon driving as early in the morning as possible. 

Christmas that year was a red-letter day. Just before it ar- 
rived, Mother turned down all professional engagements and 
flew in from New York to spend the holidays with us. She 
took a suite at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where 
she gave a party for Syd and me and our friends on Christmas 
Eve. I vaguely remember that party. I recall far more clearly 
the following Christmas morning, for it proved to be one of 
those rare occasions that brought our parents together. 

Dad came to see us at our mother’s invitation. Suddenly 
there he was at the door of Mother’s suite, putting out his 
hand to her. 

“Hello,” he said, just as though they had parted yesterday. 
“How are you? You’re looking well.” 

“So are you, Charlie,” Mother replied. 

Syd and I ran up and kissed Dad and went back to our 



game, which was a kind of boisterous tag, while Mother and 
Dad chatted together. But Dad had been there only a little 
while when suddenly he got to his feet. 

“I don’t think I should stay too long because I have Paulette 
in the car,” he said diffidently. “She might be miffed if I just 
leave her sitting there.” 

“Why don’t you ask her up?” Mother said. 

So Dad called down to the bell captain and asked him to 
invite Paulette in. 

Paulette came up, and she and Mother met for the first and 
last time there in the parlor of the Ambassador Hotel suite. 
Mother was as captivated by Paulette as Dad and Syd and I 
had been. 

“She was so disarming,” Mother says, recalling that day. 
“A wonderful, wonderful girl with a good sense of humor. 
I’ll never forget how beautiful she looked in her black velvet 
dress with her dark soft shoulder-length hair.” 

Though Paulette never saw Mother again, she kept in touch 
with her throughout the years, sending her friendly little 
notes to show she was remembered. After Mother’s first break- 
down, when she was hospitalized with an operation, it was 
Paulette who sent her a bottle of wine in a basket and a note 
which read, “Get well quickly, Lita, we wish you the best.” 

Was Paulette trying to thank Mother in this way for the 
loan of her two sons? I don’t know. But Mother has often told 
close friends, “I was so happy Charlie married Paulette, be- 
cause she cared so much about my children. She was wonder- 
ful to them. She used to take a lot of time out of her own life 
and her own interests just to spend with them.” 

Yes, Paulette gave us a lot of her time. That January, after 
Mother had returned East to fulfill the rest of her engage- 
ments, Paulette rook us to the mountains for a long week end, 
driving us herself to Lake Arrow'head. How wonderful that 
holiday was in the white, quiet land of snow, so different 
from the warm lowlands. Paulette might have been our older 
sister up there. We played in the snow together. We went 



sledding. All day long we kept busy and we were ready for 
bed — all three of us — ^when night fell. 

But we hated to tell Paulette good night. It was cold and 
lonely. The wind had a sighing sound and a biting edge to it. 
We went to her room shivering in our pajamas. 

“Let us stay here with you,” we begged. 

Paulette laughed. 

“Okay, ten minutes,” she answered. And Syd and I jumped 
into bed with her. It was restful lying there with her arms 
around us, listening to her tell us a fairy tale. Soon we were 
drifting off to sleep. 

Then from a long distance away we heard Paulette saying, 
“Okay, come on now, back to bed you go.” 

And she shook us gently and shoved us out, and Syd and I 
wandered off to bed. 

There never was a nicer winter holiday, but of course it 
couldn’t last. We had to come back to the lowlands to mun- 
dane things — Syd and I to school and Paulette to work and the 
gossip of the newspapers that were speculating loudly about 
what it meant when a man’s best girl took his sons on an out- 
of-town holiday. Paulette loved it. 

That year, on the eve of my tenth birthday, I experienced 
one of the biggest dusappointments of my childhood. It was 
the year I first did an imitation of my father for the public. 
Around the house Syd and I had always done imitations of 
movie personalities — Lloyd, Gable, Garbo, even our father. 
Dad was amused by us and encouraged us on occasion to show 
off for his guests. But this was different. This was on a stage 
in front of a real audience, at the Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles. 

Syd and I attended a dancing school, and the children put 
on a show in which dolls that represented different fictional 
characters came to life. I did one on Dad as the Little Tramp. 
Everyone said afterwards that I was good but I wanted to 
hear that praise from only one person — the Little Tramp him- 
self. I wonder if anyone in the cast or audience guessed how 1 



scanned that shadowy sea of faces below for one familiar face, 
or how I strained my ears to hear that infectious laugh, rather 
high-pitched yet resonant. But I neither saw nor heard my 

I learned later that Dad, who had told me he planned to 
come, was held up by a last-minute rush of work. He was 
amused to learn of my imitation of him and pleased with the 
praise I had received. But it wasn’t the same as if he had been 
there to see with his own eyes. I couldn’t hold back my feeling 
of disappointment, though I understood how it was with Dad 
when he was working. 

By this time he was spending nights as well as days at the 
studio. He solved the problem by moving to the studio alto- 
gether, with his cook, George. Finally, after ten months of 
cyclonic activity, the production work on Modern Times 
was completed, and Dad came out of his spell to find himself 
surrounded with broken, or at least soured, personal relation- 

Hardest hit was Paulette. She had submitted to my father’s 
perfectionist drive in every detail, and so the gamin of Modem 
Times had been charmingly created. But Paulette, the real 
woman, had been ignored. Terribly weary from the long or- 
deal, she must have felt a desire to escape her relentless mentor 
and enjoy herself. At least newspapers began to report that 
she was being seen around town with other men. This natur- 
ally led to talk of a breakup. But breakup of what? Even now, 
when it appeared that everything might be over, the reporters 
were still speculating on whether it was to be the breakup of 
a marriage, an engagement or just a romance. 

Fortunately for Syd and me, we didn’t hear of the news- 
paper gossip. By this time Paulette had come to mean a great 
deal to us. One week end while the papers were reporting her 
estrangement from Dad, she took us to Palm Springs with her. 
•And when she came back she and Dad were once again seen 
everywhere together. 

It was Paulette who, at Dad’s request, went to meet H. G. 



Wells, who arrived on November 29 at Grand Central Air 
Terminal in Glendale. Dad had been Wells’s guest in Eng- 
land and now Wells was returning the visit. He spent two or 
three weeks at Dad’s home. I remember him as a man with 
a walrus mustache and a decidedly British manner of acting 
and speaking. Syd and I weren’t too impressed with him at our 
age; to us he was just another of Dad’s writer friends, and a 
nuisance in our lives because, during his stay with Dad, he 
was given our room. So long as he remained we couldn’t 
spend any nights at the house on the hill. 

Though the filming of the picture was over, Dad still had 
his musical score to complete. Music combined with a few 
spoken words allegedly coming out of loud-speakers, and a 
final nonsense song by Dad, were to be his concession to the 
world of sound. He told me the nonsense song was primarily 
to test his own voice for screen projection. 

My father didn’t have a music department of his own and 
had to go over to United Artists to make use of their musi- 
cians and recording rooms. If the people in his own studio 
had suffered from Dad’s perfectionist drive, the musicians who 
now began working with him endured pure torture. 

Dad can’t read a note of music himself, but he knew what 
he wanted, and when he wasn’t getting it, and he wouldn’t 
give up until it sounded right to him. He had some of the in- 
dustry’s top musical talent to help him. Alfred Newman, who 
has won several Oscars and who at the time was under con- 
tract to Sam Goldwyn, was a.ssigned to do the score and direct 
the music. David Raksin, the talented young composer who 
was later to make musical history with liis tune “Laura,” was 
hired, with Edward Powell, to take down and orchestrate 
Dad’s music. 

Dad wore them all out. Edward Powell concentrated so 
hard writing the music down that he almost lost his eyesight 
and had to go to a specialist to save it. David Raksin, working 
an average of twenty hours a day, lost twenty-five pounds 

1 26 


and sometimes was so exhausted he couldn’t find strength to 
go home but would sleep on the studio floor. A1 Newman 
saw him one day in the studio street walking along with tears 
running down his cheeks. 

But David still had plenty of resilience in him, enough to 
play an occasional prank on Dad by way of lightening the 

Dad had a recording machine similar to a Dictaphone, into 
which he would hum his tunes. 'Fhis enabled him to work 
longer hours and have his ideas canned, ready for presenta- 
tion when he and Raksin got together. One day as a joke 
David recorded snatches of Prokofiev’s Third Concerto and 
Shostakovich’s First Symphony to give my father a proper 
start when he turned on the machine. What David hadn’t 
expected was that that afternoon Dad would be showing off 
his studio to a party of distinguished visitors — Alexander 
Woollcott, H. G. Wells and King Vidor among them. He 
stepped proudly over to tlie recording machine. 

“This is how I compose my music,” he said and turned it on. 

He jumped about two feet when Shostakovich came blast- 
ing out. Then he looked at David Raksin for a long, meaning- 
ful minute and shook his finger at him. It was his only 
acknowledgment of the gag. 

It was A1 Newman who finally broke under the pressure. 
With only two hundred feet more of sound track to go, and 
after endless changes and grueling work night and day for 
weeks, his nerves were as taut as though they had been sub- 
jected to the Chinese water torture. He just exploded one day 
and called my father every name he could think of, throwing 
his baton all the way across the stage to emphasize what he 
was saying. Then he stalked out, went to his suite in the build- 
ing across from the sound stage, tossed down a half pint of 
whiskey to calm his nerves and phoned Goldwyn to tell him 
he was through. Nor would be go back, despite pleas and pres- 
sure. They had to bring in another man to take Newman’s 



But at last they made it through all obstacles and got the 
music of Modem Times recorded. Then my father entered the 
final phase of picture making, the most difficult of all, as any 
producer will tell you. It is that period of uncertainty be- 
tween the completion of a picture and its presentation to the 
public. It is the same anxiety that an actor feels on opening 
night, but only in part, because until the last curtain falls an 
actor has an opportunity to wake up a difficult audience. 

A picture, however, is a canned product. It is no longer pos- 
sible to play up a scene or to improve on a bit of business 
when audience interest seems to flag. You have to stand or fall 
on what has been completed in preceding months, and you 
are at the mercy of an audience with whom you have no phys- 
ical contact. 

Dad once told me the story of how such an audience put 
him through an excruciating evening. It was a sneak preview 
of one of Ins most popular silent pictures. Gold Rush or City 
Lights, and it was being shown at the old Belasco Theater, 
which stood in a Mexican section of Los Angeles. I don’t 
know why the Belasco was selected for the test unless it was 
assumed its audiences were made up of people in ordinary 
walks of life who would provide a good cross section of pub- 
lic reaction. At the beginning of the show, post cards were 
handed out to each patron with a request for an opinion of 
the picture. 

Dad couldn’t wait for those cards. He decided to go to the 
theater incognito and find out for himself. 

“I got a seat behind three burly Mexicans,” he told me. 
“They were all sitting with their arms folded. 1 thought they 
would limber up when the picture started. But they didn’t. 
They just sat there like rocks. I got a feeling of panic and I 
looked round at the rest of the audience. There wasn’t a peep 
out of any of them cither. My stomach began turning upside 
down. I had to get up and go to the rest room and throw up. 

“I t<fld myself in the rest room it just couldn’t be true. And 
I went back. The audience still seemed about as noisy as a 



tomb. I found the three Mexicans just as I had left them, mo- 
tionless, with their arms crossed. They fascinated me. Why, 
there wasn t so much as a twitch out of them at any time. 1 
had to go back to the rest room. I must have gone four or 
five times to throw up during the course of that picture. Each 
time I came back hopeful I would find those Mexicans laugh- 
ing, the audience in an uproar. But I didn’t. Throughout the 
whole picture I didn’t hear a single belly laugh, just a few dis- 
creet chuckles now and then. 

“To cap everything, three fourths of the way through the 
picture the three Mexicans in front of me got to their feet as 
one man, stretched, yawned and walked out. I couldn’t stand 
it any longer. I followed right behind them. I went home a 
nervous wreck. All I could do was pray that there might be 
at least some people who would like it. After all, I’d spent well 
over a million dollars on the production. I bad to pray.” 

When the cards came in, my father was astonished at the 
high praise most of the audience expressed for his picture. He 
could only assume that Mexicans as a nationality don’t roar 
with laughter when they’re amused. They just chuckle. 

Dad worried the same way over Modern Times. 1 guess he 
drank his glass of Alka-Seltzer fizz water practically every 
night until the picture was launched. Critics were not as en- 
thusiastic as they had been about his earlier films, but the audi- 
ences seemed to like it. In this country alone it gro.ssed almost 
two million dollars, w’hich was a healthy figure in the wake of 
the depression. It was sure proof that even in the world of 
sound the Little Fellow could hold his own. And now the 
critics who had been predicting a dismal failure for the film 
began conjecturing learnedly about the causes for its success. 
Producers and directors started to study its techniques to see 
if any could be used to improve their own pictures. Dad was 
no longer looked on as a has-been. He was still the King of 

But for my father, everything about Modern Times was 
now passe. He didn’t want to discuss it or even think about it 



again. His churning mind began to grope for something new 
and exciting upon which to fasten itself. And he settled upon 
a visit to the Orient, which had so impressed him when he 
went there on his trip around the world. But this time he did 
not plan to travel alone. Paulette, accompanied by her mother, 
Mrs. Alta Goddard, was to accompany him. Dad was never 
niggardly where praise was deserved, and out of appreciation 
for the wonderful job Paulette had done in the picture he had 
presented her w'ith a piece of expensive jewelry. But the trip 
was to be an additional reward, and Paulette was as excited 
about it as a child. 

Syd and I told them good-by one day in February, and ac- 
companied by good, honest Frank, they sailed away on the 
President Coolidge, bound for Honolulu. What envy filled us 
as we thought of all the exotic places they were going to see! 
We felt a kind of emptiness, too, at being left behind in our 
barracks-like school. But who wants children along on what 
is very likely to turn out to be a honeymoon trip? At least 
this was what all the papers were predicting. And Dad and 
Paulette, as usual, were neither denying nor affirming it. 


For more than three months our father toured the Orient with 
Paulette. Not once in all that time did we have a letter from 
him, though I’m sure he thought of us. But it has always taken 
an earth-shaking event for Dad to sit down and write. 

Though we never heard from him, Syd and I could follow 
his odyssey in the daily papers. His ports of call had strange, 
exotic names — Yokohama, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, 
Batavia, Java, Sumatra, Bali. At each stop he made, the news- 
papers were speculating about whether he and Paulette were 
secretly married. 

But all these speculations made little impression on Syd and 
me. We thought only of how long a time it had been since the 
house on the hill had been open to us. We missed it, we missed 


Dad and Paulette and our friends. It wasn’t a happy spring 
for us that year anyway; we were making our first acquain- 
tance with tragedy. 

That Easter Sunday, in the middle of a successful singing 
tour in Scotland, Mother collapsed with her first nervous 
breakdown. Except for her faithful maid, Gladys, she was 
all alone in a foreign country. A cablegram came for Nana, 
urging her to come to Mother at once. But at the time Nana 
herself was gravely ill with double pneumonia and couldn’t 
leave her bed. Gladys had to get Mother back to the United 
States unaided and place her in a sanitarium. It wasn’t until 
early May that Nana, barely well enough to travel, was able 
to leave her sickbed and go East to bring Mother home. 

When they returned, Nana bought a five-acre ranch in the 
San Fernando Valley for us all. It was just over the hills from 
I lollywood, and at that time far removed from the bustle of 
the city, from people in general and old acquaintances who 
might have had a disturbing influence on Mother. And there 
Nana started the heartbreaking task of nursing Mother back 
to health. Mother’s mental turmoil was greatly aggravated by 
a glandular imbalance. She needed an operation but she was 
so run-down the doctor didn’t dare risk it. It turned into a 
vicious round robin, with the physical condition aggravating 
the mental and that in turn operating to tear down the phys- 
ical. It was an agonizing period for all of us, but especially 
for Mother, who had to make the long and lonely fight back 
to normalcy and health. 

How different Syd and I found her this time. She was no 
longer the glamorous, vivacious girl we had known, who had 
always been ready for a laugh and some fun. Now she was 
quiet and hysterical by turns, and she could be upset by the 
smallest things. I had only to tune in to classical music on the 
radio to send her into hysterics. Her frantic terror at those 
times frightened and bewildered me. 

She spent most of the time in bed. I remember how she lay 
there hour after hour in a daze, though I did not know that 
the doctors were giving her sedatives to keep her quiet. 



I felt bad about it, as a child feels toward an illness he can- 
not understand, but I didn’t rake it too seriously at first. I 
just accepted Nana’s explanation that Mother had worked 
hard and was run-down and needed lots of rest. 

I remember the day in early June when Dad phoned the 
school and said he was back and would like to see us. Syd ami 
I were jubilant. On Friday, just as thougli no months iiad in- 
tervened, a smiling Frank showed up in the car to take us to 
the house on the hill. 

“Your fathah,” Frank told us on the way home, “he got 
married down at Hong Kong on the boat.” 

When we asked for details, he shook his head. 

“I didn’t sec ’em get married,” he said with a laugh. “I 
don’t hang around them all the time. They have their things 
to do. I have mine. But they tell me so.” 

At last we were back in our father’s familiar home again. 
Dad and Paulette were waiting for us. They looked liappy — 
Dad especially. He always enjoyed his excursions abroad, but 
each time he was thoroughly glad to get home. He really 
wasn’t much of a traveler, and the feeling of being rooted 
had become so strong in him by this time that he was to stay 
in the United States for sixteen years after this trip. 

Syd and I ran up and kissed first Dad and then Paulette. 
Paulette stooped and hugged us both while Dad laughingly 
confirmed Frank’s piece of information. But though Dad told 
us flatly that he had married Paulette, it was to remain a fam- 
ily secret for years, because neither one of them bothered to 
tip off the reporters. Throughout the long period they were 
together the newspapers continued to speculate as to “when” 
and “if” and “where.” 

June! It brought .so many things that year. It brought my 
mother an anguish of remorse that was to haunt her for years, 
though she was really not responsible for what happened. 
How can you hold a tragically ill person responsible for any- 
thing? And it brought me in the end a deeper understanding 



of life. My mother has agreed that I should tell this story 
because it gives a clearer insight into my relations with my 
father at the time. 

Up until June of 1936, Syd and I had not considered our- 
selves any different from the children of other divorced 
couples. We knew our parents hadn’t been able to get along 
and had separated when we were very small, but we had been 
carefully shielded from the ugliness that accompanied the di- 
vorce. And there had been nothing really shocking in the 
two subsequent court battles over us — just unpleasantness. 
Both our father and our mother had taken care to stress respect 
for the other. 

“Don’t bring any tales back to me about your father or take 
any tales to him from our place,” Mother would caution when 
she was staying with us. “We live our own lives and have our 
separate ways of doing things.” For his part, Dad never asked 
what went on in Mother’s home. His inquiries about her were 
always polite. “How is your mother? I hope she’s well. 
What’s she doing these days? Touring?” 

At school, too, no one talked about divorce. There were 
other children of divorced couples and everyone took it for 
granted. There were also a lot of children with parents in 
show business as, Dad and Mother were — writer Ken Eng- 
lund’s son George, Buster Keaton’s sons, Paul Whiteman, Jr., 
Alax Factor’s son. When we discussed our parents it was 
mostly in terms of their accomplishments in the theater or 
in pictures. 

“You lucky fellows,” our friends would say to Syd and me. 
“Your father’s a famous comedian. Your mother’s a beautiful 
singer. Is your father going to marry Paulette? She’s a doll.” 

Listening to our friends’ envious remarks, Syd and 1 had 
the feeling that, all in all, life had been very kind to us. It 
never occurred to us there was a darker side to the story until 
I learned it from my mother on June 28, my eleventh birth- 
day — or at least the day they had always celebrated as my 



Syd and I were home from school now, dividing our rime 
between our father’s place and our mother’s house on Ventura 
Boulevard. That day I walked into the bedroom where Mother 
was lying. I was always wandering in there, vaguely worried 
about her and hoping each time to see that she had improved. 
But this day I had a special purpose in mind. It was my birth- 
day and Mother had been asleep all morning and hadn’t yet 
congratulated me. I was hoping I would find her awake and 
she would remember, but she was still lying there very quietly. 
I was about to leave when suddenly she sat bolt upright. 

“I have something very important to tell you, Charles,” she 
said with a mysterious air. “Very important! It may mean life 
or death.” 

I didn’t pay much attention at first to what she was saying. 
Mother had such a strange way of talking those days. What I 
did notice plainly for the first time were her pitifully thin 
arms. They were like pipes. It came to me that I could circle 
them with one hand. I saw, too, how large and black her 
eyes were in her thin face. They had a wild, haunted look. 

“Charles,” she insisted, seeing my wandering gaze. “You 
7mist listen.” 

Then all at once she began talking in a rush of words, giving 
vent to the fears and resentments that had piled up inside her 
during her marriage to Dad. I was the one to hear them be- 
cause I had walked into the room at that particular time and 
because, since it was my birthday, I was the focal point. 

After her recovery Alother could remember that ordeal 
only with remorse. She told me that all the while she was talk- 
ing she knew she shouldn’t be. But she was powerless to stop. 
The sedatives had destroyed all volition and she had no con- 
trol over her tongue. It was as though another person had 
borrowed it and was talking through her. 

She launched into a wild description of my father as she 
was convinced he really was. But the man she described, the 
man she saw in her phantasmagoria, had little connection with 
the flesh-and-blood human being 1 knew as my father. He was 



a monster, huge as a myth, with unbelievable powers of de- 
struction. And all this power, my mother told me, was focused 
on her to destroy her and had been for years. I lis spies had 
even followed her to far-off Scotland and caused her to fall 
ill. And now they were all around her. And they had in their 
possession dreadful potions with which the) were poisoning 
the air. She could smell it plainly. (Later the doctors were able 
to explain to her that her sensitized nostrils had picked up the 
internal odors that came from the secretions of her own over- 
worked glands.) So far, she explained, she had managed to 
evade death, but she did not know how long this would go on. 

Her vivid words wove a spell around me. 1 stood rooted to 
the spot, while Mother kept repeating over and over her con- 
viction of my father’s malignant power. 

“He has so much money,” she said. “He can hire anybody 
to do what he wants. It’s almost impossible to fight him.” 

Malignant, malevolent, the phantom Mother had created 
from her disordered fantasy seemed to tower between us in 
the shadowy room like a horrible genie released from a lamp. 
Mother leaned toward me now, speaking confidentially. 

“I have to warn you, Charlie,” she said. “You have his name 
and he didn’t want you to have it. He wanted to keep it all 
to himself, so that there would be just one Charlie Chaplin. 
Now there are two. So he intends to destroy you too.” 

Mother began crying. Trembling all over, she went on 
through her sobs. “No, he never wanted you, Charlie. He had 
to marry me because of you and so he never loved you from 
the first. I have to tell you about your birthday, Charlie. It’s 
not today, the twenty-eighth of June. It’s really back on the 
fifth of May. The records were changed. He has all this power, 
you see. You can’t fight him. You can’t fight him.” 

Mother’s voice had risen to a hysterical wail and suddenly 
Nana came running in. 

I slipped quietly out of the room and walked all about the 
house, too dazed even to reason about what Mother had just 
told me. She had made it seem so real I couldn’t be sure of any- 



thing. I had to talk to someone about it. I remembered Syd. 
I looked around until I found him and I told him everything, 
just as Mother had told me. 

Syd was able to look at the whole thing mora objectively 
than I because he hadn’t been caught in the spell of Mother’s 
terrible conviction. 

“Don’t pay any attention to Mother, Chuck,” he said. “She’s 
sick, she’s awfully sick. You can tell. Sometimes here lately 
she doesn’t even know what she’s saying. She just makes things 

Syd’s words were like a prick in a giant balloon. The fan- 
tastic picture Mother had drawn with such clarity collapsed 
under his common-sense words. Later Nana verified what he 
had said. 

“She’s delirious, Charlie,” she tried to comfort me, half cry- 
ing herself. “Just forget everything she told you.” 

At first I believed Syd and Nana implicitly, because it made 
everything better that way. But after a while a doubt began 
to nag at me. 1 kept returning to one point. The more I 
thought of it, the more I was convinced that one point, any- 
way, wasn’t fantasy. It was the one about my birthday. It 
stood out clearly just because it looked so rational in the midst 
of all the rest of ir. And it put everything concerning me and 
my parents in a different light. 

It wasn’t any longer just a case of their having been incom- 
patible after their marriage. They had never wanted to marry 
each other in the first place. And I had forced them into it. 
That made me the cause of all their unhappiness, perhaps even 
of my mother’s illness. The logic of a child is terrible, and 
once he gets started there is no limit to the burden of guilt he 
will take on his own shoulders. 


What is an eleven-year-old boy’s reaction to the infonnation 
that his father does not love him, and never did? Now when I 
went up to the hill I began studying Dad surreptitiously, his 
words and gestures, the expression on his face, to see if I could 
detect his true feelings toward me, whether of coldness or 
warmth. I never could be sure because he was the same father 
he had always been. It was I who had changed. Without real- 
izing it I began to be quite formal, even deferential, toward 
him. It was as though I had become a stranger m my own 

It came to me one day that I could settle everything by a 
forthright question to my father about the circumstances of 
my birth. But I was afraid to make the move. Afraid of what? 
Afraid of discovering it was all true? Afraid of a rebuff? 



It was especially wonderful then to have Paulette around. 
She wasn’t just pretty. She was warm and enthusiastic about 
everything. And she loved to joke with Dad. 

Paulette was such a good audience that Dad must have 
pulled a hundred gags a day on her, some of them so corny 
you couldn’t believe it. Out of a clear sky he would jump up 
from the couch or chair on which he was sitting, pull his hair 
down on his forehead and, with his hand in his coat, strut 
around the house looking exactly like Napoleon Bonaparte, 
who fascinated him. 

Sometimes, when the evening had proved long enough for 
him, he would get gravely to his feet. 

“I’m ready for bed,” he would announce solemnly. “Good 
night, honey buns,” and he would go behind the couch and 
start walking along it, crouching lower and lowxr with each 
step so that it looked exactly as though he were going down 
an imaginary flight of stairs. He always wore the silliest ex- 
pression on his face. The last you would see of him would be 
his head with that silly expression. 

Now that Paulette had come to live with us, we began to do 
many more things together. Dad had meant well toward us 
before, but often, caught up in the press of work or a sudden 
rush of ideas, he had forgotten about us. Paulette saw that w^e 
were included in the plans for the week end. She would get 
Dad away from his writing table to go to a movie with us or 
go on an outing to the Amusement Pier or the zoo. The mon- 
keys at the zoo reminded Dad of the gorillas he had seen in 
Sumatra. (He was always recalling one or another fantastic 
thing from his trips to the Orient.) He spoke in awT of those 
Sumatra gorillas, with their tremendous heads and massive 
bodies. But strangely enough, though he mimicked almost 
everybody and everything, including vultures, which he con- 
sidered among the most graceful of living creatures, I can’t 
recall ever seeing him mimic a monkey. 

Often we would end the day wdth dinner at a small restau- 
rant in Chinatown or some other out-of-the-way spot. Some- 
times Paulette’s mother would come along too. Mrs. Goddard 



was just like Paulette in so many ways. They laughed alike, 
had the same sparkling eyes and effervescent sense of humor. 
Dad got along with Mrs. Goddard. Perhaps he could give some 
valuable pointers on how to keep peace with one’s mothers- 
in-law, because he was on good terms with all of his. Even 
after the bitter divorce trial between him and my mother, he 
resumed a warm friendship with Nana. And he is very fond 
of Mrs. Agnes O’Neill, Oona’s mother. 

But Paulette wasn’t the only one to suggest entertainment 
for us that summer. Sometimes Dad would get a bug in his 
head about taking us all on a little drive, the sort of ordinary 
outing a lot of families enjoy, if you could call Dad’s kind of 
driving ordinary. He always used the Ford, a black four-door 
sedan. He kept that Ford for years because he was confused 
by the strange gadgets on later models. He’d learned to drive 
when he was thirty-five and he was proud of his accomplish- 
ment. For driving he wore what I considered a regular outfit 
— his brown-rimmed glasses, a tweed jacket and a brown felt 
hat which he kept tilted at a cocky angle. 

We would all set out for the car. Dad would help Paulette 
into the front seat while Syd and 1 climbed in the back. Then 
he would get in himself. When he stuck the key into the igni- 
tion he would straighten himself, throw back his shoulders, 
cock his head, thrust out his chin and grasp the wheel in a 
masterful fashion. And off we’d go. 

Dad would start at a moderate pace, but then he would get 
interested in the scenery and his foot would automatically 
press down on the accelerator. Suddenly he would recollect 
himself and relax on the gas. We drove in spurts like that most 
of the time, while Dad rubbernecked. I think he seldom looked 
at the road ahead. 

Dad enjoyed pretending we were tourists driving around 
taking in the homes of Hollywood stars. There were a lot 
right in our neighborhood. Besides Pickfair just above us and 
the Lloyds below, Kay Francis, Ronald Colman, Fred Astaire 
and Tom Mix all lived nearby. When we passed Mix’s house 



Syd and I would crane our heads out the window, hoping to 
catch a glimpse of him in his cowboy outfit, but we never did. 

As we came to the outskirts of Dad’s place he always had to 
point it out to us with an extra flourish. And when Syd and I 
greeted his effusive ballyhoo with laughter he would look 

“They just about fall out of the car trying to get a look at 
Tom Mix,” he would complain to Paulette. “And here I am 
considered the greatest comedian in the world by a lot of peo- 
ple and they just take me for granted.” 

Sometimes, instead of sightseeing around town, Dad would 
get it into his head to take us on long drives into the country. 
Oh, what drives! Beautiful lawns, bright flowers, stately trees, 
any of these were enough to distract Dad from the task at 
hand. Sometimes he would sail right through a stop light. 

“Charlie, Charlie,” Paulette would cry, “the light’s red!” 

Bur by that time Dad had left it far behind. 

“What light?” he wanted to know. 

“Do be careful, Charlie,” Paulette, who is a very good 
driver herself, would say. 

But Dad was incorrigible. He’d go right back to viewing 
the scenery on either side of the road and forgetting his foot 
was on the gas. 

“My God, Charlie!” Paulette would suddenly scream. 
“Look at the road!” 

And Dad would get his eyes back and his wheel turned in 
time to keep from colliding with an oncoming car. 

“Oh, what a terrible driver,” Paulette would sigh, and then 
she would burst out laughing, because it was really very 
funny, and Syd and 1 would join her. 

Dad always passed off Paulette’s barbs about his terrible 
driving as a joke. I think he took a lot more from her than 
from anyone else, because he could never stand a back-seat 
driver. He couldn’t stand to be passed on the road, either, be- 
cause it seemed to him this was a reflection on his rate of 
speed. And the toot of a horn — which was usually to get him 



back on his side of the white line — could send him into a tizzy. 

“Oh, those fools,” he would exclaim, jumping as if he’d 
been shot. “Why are they honking at me like that? I know 
how to drive.” 

Another thing Dad couldn’t bear when he was driving was 
to have the route pointed out to him. It seemed to him to be 
an aspersion on his sense of direction, which is very poor 
despite his firm faith in it. His complete disregard of all advice 
reached a climax one day when he was driving with Tim 
Durant down Sunset Boulevard in a thick fog. Tim, peering 
anxiously out of the window, suddenly glimpsed a landmark 
that told him they had come to the road which leads to Dad’s 

“Here you are, we’d better turn here,” he exclaimed. 

Dad shook his head. 

“Not yet, not yet,” he said brusquely. 

“But it is the road,” Tim remonstrated. 

For answer Dad kept driving doggedly along. 

“Look, Charlie,” Tim suddenly exclaimed in horror. “We’re 
not on Sunset Boulevard at all. We’re on the bridle path now. 
There’s the hedge that lines it.” 

Dad gave a cursory glance out the window. 

“Nonsense,” he replied with all the nonchalance of near- 
sighted Mr. Magoo. “It’s the edge of someone’s lawn. We’II 
come to the turn soon.” 

And he kept on down the bridle path that bisects Sunset 
Boulevard, past the hedges that even he must have seen were 
hedges by this time. Only he wouldn’t admit his mistake. He 
never did. After about a mile or more he came to the end of 
the bridle path and rolled out on Sunset Boulevard again, and 
just kept on going as if it were the most natural thing in the 

Of course our adventures led us farther afield than those 
drives around town. We saw a great deal of the yacht that 
summer, and sometimes we would all go up to the moun- 
tains for a few days, where Paulette taught us to ice skate. 



She was a good skater herself. Dad was too, though I never 
saw him do much skating. Often when Dad was busy Paulette 
would take Syd and me alone to Lake Arrowhead or Big 
Bear. It became a ritual with us never to go to bed up there 
without first joining Paulette for a bedtime story. 

Fun — we had a lot of it that summer. But if you have a 
problem, fun has a way of making it stand out even more 
plainly. For weeks I had tried to dismiss from my mind what 
Mother had told me and enter into the activities around me. 
But every once in a while the thought that perhaps I was 
there at my father’s house only on sufferance would come up 
to nag at me. Was he just tolerating me? It was a terrible 
question because I loved him, and because I so much wanted 
him to love me. But I couldn’t be sure of that any more. I 
couldn’t really be sure of anytliing about him. At last I knew I 
couldn’t go on like that any longer. 

I remember the day. Paulette had left for a dancing or sing- 
ing lesson. Syd and I were playing with the Krisel brothers 
down by the swimming pool. Suddenly, as so often happened 
in my boyhood, I felt drawn to the house and my father. I 
kept wondering what he was doing. I left the pool and came 
up to the house and looked into the living room. He was sit- 
ting at his table writing. Since he had married Paulette I no- 
ticed he worked much more downstairs in the front room. 

T went in and stood there quietly watching him, feeling 
both wannth and loneliness, a sensation which had become 
painfully familiar to me of late. He was only the length of the 
room away and yet he seemed completely cut off from me. 

Finally he came to the end of what he was writing, lifted his 
head and saw me for the first time. 

“Charles,” he said, “is there something you want, son?” 

“Dad,” I answered. 1 went into the room. I stood before his 
table, groping. Then all at once the words came stammering 

“I wanted to ask you. Dad, I’m sorry to bother you. But 



Mother’s been talking a lot of things about the marriage. I 
mean yours and hers. I wanted to know.” 

Dad looked intently at me, and an expression of surprise 
came over his face. 

“There were a lot of unhappy things about it, son,” he 
said gravely after a pause. “There was a big stink in court. It 
was nobody’s fault, really. I was so much older than your 
mother and we were so unlike. It was a bad thing for all of 

“But, Dad, my birthday,” I insisted. “Mother told me it’s 
not in June. It was May fifth. You had to get married because 
of me.” 

“Well,” Dad said, and all at once he smiled, “you weren’t 
exactly planned, son, if that’s what you mean. But that’s just 
one of the things of life.” 

He got to his feet, came over and put his arm around my 
shoulder. It was a warm, spontaneous gesture, surprising in 
Dad, who is not given to affectionate displays. 

“It’s all right, Charles,” he said, and 1 knew he was dis- 
tressed at my obvious unhappiness and uncertainty and was 
trying to comfort me. “You’re here. You’re my son. I’m your 
father. Birthdays aren’t really important.” 

As Dad talked, the last of Mother’s weird fantasy fell to 
pieces in my mind. 

“But, Dad,” I went on hurriedly, wanting to get the final 
confirmation from him and afraid I would lose my courage. 
“She said you hated her. You were after her. You had spies all 

Dad shook his head. “Even though we had our troubles 
once, it isn’t true, of course,” he said. “You know that, son. 
The mind is a strange thing. When you get hurt deeply, when 
your problems get too big for you, it plays tricks on you. You 
believe things that aren’t true, you say things that aren’t tnie. 
Your mother is a very sick woman, Charles. You must remem- 
ber that.” 

He spoke gently of her, plainly disturbed and unhappy by 



the thought of her illness — as he was always disturbed by suf- 
fering of any kind. 

■ “I’d like to see her. Maybe I could help her. If I could talk 
to her . . 

As I listened to my father’s hesitant, anxious voice it came 
to me that whatever had happened between him and Mother 
later, there had been a time, perhaps just a little time, when 
they were dear to each other, and I was the child of that time. 
Throughout my boyhood I clung to that assumption because 
it was so important to my sense of security. But it was to be 
verified for me only in later years, when my mother was suf- 
fering her second breakdown. 


I had my answer from my father. 1 could relax and enjoy my- 
self with him now. The trouble was that a single answer is 
seldom enough for a child. I found myself wondering later if 
Dad had really meant what he said, or if he had just said it to 
make me feel better. But 1 never found enough courage to re- 
vive the subject again, and Dad never brought it up with me. 

All summer our mother had been improving steadily, 
though she was not nearly so well as she appeared to be. When 
she met Henry Aguirre, Jr., a dancer, it took only about two 
weeks of whirlwind courtship to convince her he was the 
right man. 

That September of 1936 she and Mr. Aguirre eloped to San 
Francisco without telling even Nana. When they returned 



they rented a small house on Beachwood Drive, where we 
visited them several week ends. But Nana had stayed at the 
ranch and when we weren’t with Dad we usually went out to 
her. So my recollection of Aguirre is a shadowy one. I re- 
member him as a pleasant, mild-mannered man who now and 
then advised us how to behave. After about three months he 
and my mother separated and I never saw him again. 

To Syd and me there was an air of transience and unreality 
about our relations with oar mother throughout this whole 
tragic period. Because we hadn’t seen her for so long and be- 
cause when she came home she had been so ill, she was virtu- 
ally a stranger to us. And now that she was living separately 
from Nana we were torn between three homes — hers, Nana’s 
and our father’s. So it came to be that the most stable place 
to us those days was the house on the hill, where Paulette and 
Dad were always ready to welcome us, to laugh and joke 
with us and to take turns telling us bedtime stories. 

Sometimes in the middle of the night I would waken with a 
childish longing to get closer to them. I would steal out of our 
room and down the hall to try their doors. But they were al- 
ways locked. I'here in the quiet hall under the dim night light 
that Dad kept burning I wondered what they were afraid of, 
and I would feel shut out from their circle of safety. Then I 
would hear the creak and pop of the floor boards as the wood 
contracted under the sudden chill of the night. It is a com- 
mon sound in California, where there is such a great variation 
in the temperature between the day and the dark. But it 
seemed to me when I heard those tentative noises that the 
house lived a mysterious and even sinister life of its own when 
we were all abed. 

My father, too, was alert to the sly noises of the night. With 
his vivid imagination he had at times the uncanny feeling 
that something was about. At least he would occasionally 
leave his room and prowl through the bowels of the house, in- 
vestigating. The first time I heard him in the hall, I opened 
our door and went out to see what he was doing. By the night 



light I saw him in his dressing gown. He had his pistol in one 
hand and he was stealing quietly toward the stairway. 

“What’s wrong, Father?” I whispered. 

“Shhh, son,” Dad whispered back. “I thought I heard some- 
one. I’m checking. Go back to bed.” 

But I didn’t. I stood rooted in terror to the hall floor. I 
heard my father moving around below, going from room to 
room, turning on lights, opening up doors, closing doors, turn- 
ing off lights. Just with my ears I followed him around. Then 
he was coming up again. He saw me waiting. 

“It’s no one, son. Go back to bed,” he said. And he went 
to his room. 

I heard the door shut and the key click in the lock. I felt 
very lonely and frightened. I ran back to our room and shut 
our door quickly and turned our key in its lock too. I felt 
better then. I groped my way to my bed and climbed in. 
Sydney hadn’t even wakened. I could hear him breathing 
evenly in the other bed. Suddenly I felt safe, and a wave of 
strong, warm feeling for my brother came up in me. How 
wonderful it was to have him there. How wonderful it was 
for Sydney and me to be brothers. We belonged together. 
We were the Chaplin boys. 



With Paulette’s arrival in the house on the hill, a subtle battle 
line was almost immediately drawn between my father’s here- 
tofore comfortable bachelorhood and her determination to 
mold him into the ways of a husband. In every room her fem- 
inine touch was at once apparent, softening the casual mascu- 
linity. There were flowers on the dining-room table, flowers 
on the piano by the picture of Syd and me, flowers, lots of 
flowers, in Paulette’s bedroom upstairs. There were no flow- 
ers in Dad’s bedroom, however, because though he loved 
flowers he had heard they used up oxygen. 

But there was more than the odor of flowers to remind us 
men that there was a woman in the house. There was perfume, 
exciting, exotic, that now impregnated the middle bedroom. 



which had become Paulette’s. It left its faint telltale aroma 
throughout the house, vying with Dad’s very masculine Mit- 
souko scent. 

The all-male servant staff was breached, too, for Paulette 
brought her own maid along, a Scandinavian girl whom I re- 
call only as Jenny. And then there was Puddles, the first dog 
to come to the house on the hill, though she wasn’t to be the 
last by far. During Paulette’s time, dogs usually came to our 
house in pairs. Whenever Paulette thought of gifts for us, her 
mind gravitated to dogs. 

Now Dad likes all small creatures, but I suspect his fond- 
ness for them is more in the abstract than the concrete. I’ve 
never seen him act really comfortable around dogs, though he 
has written charmingly about the little female bitch and her 
five pups which he took on tour with him when he traveled 
in his teens with the Sherlock Holmes Company. He must 
have really changed from those early days when he kept the 
six dogs with him in the small apartments he rented, for ever 
since I’ve known him he hasn’t approved of dogs in the house. 
He is sure their fur is a carrier of germs. Their drooling is dis- 
tasteful to him and he intensely dislikes the rough feel of their 
tongues licking his hands. Occasionally he pets them, but in 
gingerly fashion. And he always washes his hands afterwards. 

My father feels 'differently toward cats. 

“A cat,” he told me once when I was a child, “is proud and 
independent. You don’t find that in a dog. If a cat is hungry 
it’ll drink the milk you give it. But it won’t for a minute think 
it owes you anything in return. It never sells its liberty. And 
just look at its grace and beauty!” 

As Dad grew eloquent on the merits of a cat he jumped to 
his feet and started being a cat on the prowl for me. His hands 
became paws. He put each one before the other with a liquid 
grace. Now and then he flicked one hand behind him and 
twitched it, and it became a tail. He craned his head forward, 
peering through slit eyes, a sly inward smile on his face. He 
was exactly like a cat. He was a cat. 


(Iharll(‘ (Chaplin, (llaulrs 
iny lallK'i' didn'l know (|ii 
|n'()ud dial he had a son . 

(iplwwlc: ji., a^ccl six, and Suinc}, a,i;i‘(l li\(' 

"TIh‘ 1(‘ niiisl lia\(' been about Iwoiih j)li()l()«;iti])li('rs with 
sluitlt'is ( licking and Hash bulbs |)oi)|)ln^, ktoitIiii^ iIk' 
inoiiK'nlons liK l dial llu* (iliaplln bo\s weir ,i;olni; to raii'o|K'." 

'‘1 si'ciii lo lic.ii iii\ s.uiiii;, 'I l()\(‘ ilils li()iis('. I'd iK'vcr 

li\(‘ aii\ w licK' ('ls( l)u( lii^lU Ih’K'. \\h.i( iiinic do xou warn 
. . . Il Wcis dll' liisl leal lionir lie had r\('i kiiii\\n. Il sccnicd 
iiii|)i c^iiahlr, solid .IS ihr old hill ilsrll’ looking down on ihr 
small lown ol I’xmiK Mills dial la\ si.iin'ii'd oul hclow il." 

OlilwMh : “As IlolUwood pi’isoiKililii's l;o. Dad didn'l ha\r a 
la\ish waidiohr . . . dir riding rlolhi's must ha\r loinr Iroiii 
dial |)riiod ol Dad's lilr wlirii Doni; I'.iirhanks talked Inin into 
joining .1 lidiiit; set." 

I mini l‘n^^ h 

Cllhiilc.s Ji., l\iiil( llc (lOcULiid, (ili.iilic (ili.ipliii icihoiit i()|(> 
‘‘Sycl Jiicl I losl oil! luMils to Paiilcllc at oiiic, iu'm i lo 
iIkmii lliroii^li all tlic golden xcais ol’oiii ( liildliood." 

/ hill I I’ll \ \ hill niiitiuiKil li/iiilii 

DiniiiL; llic sc( 011(1 liial of Jo.m ]).il(‘rni(\ suli 

(ilhiilu’ (!lia|)liii 'i<)|;)l. Miss VuW'V) holds up lu'r (hinohu'i- so 
llic jiii\ (an Hole aiiN fai iai u‘S(‘inl)laiic(‘. ’d lliiiik llic saddcsl 
\i( Imi ol all was the litllc pl.iinlill ordu* ( .is(“, ri^hlciai-inoiUh- 
old (!aiol Ann. who was hion^hl nccdIcssK inlo llic (onriiooin 
(‘v('i\ {la\, (‘\poS(‘(l to ihc stares of (he eniioiis and niad(' an 
ol))('( I ol noloi iel\ . ’ 

Ojiposilc: Above: Jack ()akii‘ widi (!ha|)hn on iIk' sci of 'Ihe 
(Anil Didaloi. “Oik' of ihc ])l(*asanU‘Sl ihiipos about tlu' ni'w 
lihn was the <drable relationship betwi'cn Dad and Jack Oakie 
. . . Dad has always had a <;i('al admiration for jack." 

Ih'Inir: O.d^ie and (lhaplin in a sceme Irom iIk' lihn. 

Miiilliii R.iyc .111(1 (llui])liii in Motnirui Vnduin. ^\.l^ 
lionoi'cd,’ slu‘ lold me s(‘i'i()iisl\. M would lia\(‘ done il l()i' 
nodiiiii^ just lo li.i\c ihc oppoi liiiiil) orwoikiin* widi him 
. . . 1 K'll ('vcr^oiH* that 1 look on il as die ,or('al('s( (‘xpci iciK c 
in my lili^ nr\i lo havini* my (lau,<>lil(‘r.’ ” 

(.lliarli*' (lhaplin, Ooiia OWVill (Ih.iplin and Tun Dniaiii. 
'‘From the lirst, Oona Inicl sonn* ma^ir.d loin h ahoiil lu'i 
where my fallu'r was eoncerned . . . dl’ onl\ I had known 
Oona or a <;iil like her lon^' a^od lie s<nd, and dieic a 
liiyi^e of w islfuliK'ss in his x'oice . . . ‘All m\ lih' 1 ha\{‘ heeii 
waiting foi' hei- wilhoiil ev(‘n leali/ino il nnlil I im l hei.' " 


Puddles, a little black cocker spaniel, was a puppy when 
Paulette first brought her to our home, and as her name im- 
plies, she wasn’t yet housebroken. But Paulette persisted in 
keeping the little dog with her in the living room during the 
evening, and sooner or later Puddles would live up to her 
name. At those moments Dad didn’t see any humor in the 
dog’s doing what he had got his biggest laugh for imitating as 
a child on a London stage. 

“Look what that goddam bitch did,” he would shout aghast. 
“Get her out of here!” 

Paulette would meekly comply, but the next night it would 
be the same thing all over again. 

Dad was discovering that things weren’t nearly so easy to 
handle as they had been in his bachelor days, when his every 
word had been law. The servants were beginning to notice the 
difference too. George was no longer left alone to turn out his 
delicious but unvaried English meals. Now Paulette would 
give orders for delicacies that would send Frank flying to the 
store on short notice, and George would apply his masterly 
touch to exotic new dishes for the table. Every day it would 
be something different and exciting to spice up the meal. 

To spice up life in general — that was Paulette. The house 
began to blossom out of its former quiet into a gayer social 
life, though even then it was more staid than most homes of its 
kind in Hollywood. Paulette loved to entertain. Dad, who 
hadn’t entertained much before because he couldn’t be both- 
ered with domestic details, now discovered he could leave all 
these tiresome arrangements to P.uilette. And he entered 
wholeheartedly into the spirit of the thing. 

Everyone in Hollywood considered him a marvelous host. 
Playing host, I believe, was a kind of drama with him. Elis 
manners were those of English royalty, the upper class, 
formal and yet gracious. He went out of his way to make his 
guests feel at home, young and old alike. But Dad wasn’t just 
an ordinary gracious host, never would be, because first and 
foremost he’s an entertainer. He could seldom pass up an op- 




portunity to play a prank, either in his own home or in those 
of his friends. 

When he and Paulette first came back from China, tlicy 
were given a welcome party by Doug Fairbanks and his new 
bride. Lady Sylvia Ashley. Upon Dad’s arrival he was let in 
by Doug Fairbanks’ Chinese houscboy. 

“I’m going to talk Chinese to you,’’ Dad whispered to the 
boy. “Even if you don’t understand what I’m saying answer 

The boy caught on. All that evening he answered my 
father’s gibberish with straight Chinese, and everything 
sounded so genuine that the guests went around whispering in 
awed tones that Dad must be a true genius, because though 
he had been in China just two or three weeks he could speak 
the language like a native. 

At his own parties my father was even more daring. One 
night at a very stiff affair he found himself seated next to a 
wealthy English lady who kept droning on and on in a high 
intellectual vein. Monotony is the torture my father can least 

“Excuse me a minute, please,” he said politely when the 
waiter came by with the salad bowl. He gravely dipped his 
hand into the bowl, lifted out a fistful of salad and put it on 
his plate. Fie wiped his hands meticulously on his napkin. 

“Now, what were you saying, Mrs. . . .” he asked conver- 

But she wasn’t saying anything. She was laughing hysteri- 
cally. It was the end of formality at that party. 

In many ways Dad’s and Paulette’s personalities comple- 
mented each other. Dad liked a quiet life; he enjoyed spending 
his evenings reading or writing. Paulette was fond of reading, 
too, and she liked to spend some evenings working on petit 
point. But she couldn’t take night after night of quiet, and 
when she’d had enough of it she would talk Dad into taking 
her out for some fun. 



Paulette seemed possessed of a steadfast gaiety that was 
seldom fazed by Dad s sudden spells of taciturn moodiness. 
o»>til he was ready to come out of liis shell and join her again, 
Paulette would cheerfully occupy herself with her dancing 
and music lessons and with Syd and me. 

Even in dress there was a great disparity between the two. 
Dad was very coascrvativc; Paulette was flashy and extrava- 
gant. She loved expensive jewelry. Necklaces, bracelets, rings 
set with precious stones were all for Paulette. Dad couldn’t 
bear to be weighted down by anvihing. He never carried 
much money on him — usually not more than twenty-five 
dollars. He signed rabs for everything. For as long as I’ve 
known him he never wore a ring or a wrist watch. He always 
told me it bothered him to have something on his hands. He 
carried his watch in his vest pocket as long as vests were fash- 

Paulette’s closets were a swirl of color. Her evening gowns 
were modish and expensive. Dad had, as 1 recall, three dinner 
jackets — one double-breasted and the other two shawl- 
collared — and he had had them for a long while. He also kept 
two old-fashioned tails which 1 never saw him wear, and a 
riding habit and pair of brown leather boors. The riding 
clothes must have come from that period of his life when 
Doug Fairbanks talked him into joining a riding set, though 
Dad never cared for horses and always maintained they had a 
tendency to run away with him. As Hollywood personalities 
go, Dad didn’t have a lavish wardrobe. His suits were con- 
servative in style and color, grays and browns and blue serges. 
He would keep them for three or four years, then give them 
away and have some more made — A\’hv I don’t know, since 
the new ones always looked exactly like the old. 

Though Dad was conservative in dress, he did follow the 
fashions except for one derail, the high, button-top shoes he 
used to wear on special occasions, either afternoon or eve- 
ning. The shoes had patent-leather bottoms and gray suede 
tops, so that it looked as if he were wearing spats. 



My father’s addiction to those shoes was a sentimental one. 
“When I was just a boy doing bit parts in the music halls I 
would see all the great actors and the important managers," 
men like Sir Henry Irving, going around in shoes like this,” he 
told me once. “All through my boyhood 1 dreamed of wear- 
ing them myself after I’d made it.” 

Unfortunately, by the time Dad felt he had “made it” — 
around the period of the First World War — button tops were 
well on their way out. That didn’t make any difference to 
him. He began to wear the shoes he had dreamed about. 1 le 
wore them for years, even into the Second World War, and 
to the amazement of a whole generation who had never even 
heard of the fashion. He always kept three pairs of them at a 
time, for he had to have them specially made for him in Fng- 
land. Whenever a pair began to show wear, he would have 
Frank ship leather back to England and order another pair, so 
that he would never be without them. I'he shoes were very 
expensive, of course, but though Dad is economical in many 
ways, it never once occurred to him to eliminate this extrava- 

I always thought Dad looked interesting, even distinctive, 
with his graying hair, his conservative blue serge suit and 
those button-top shoes. But Paulette couldn’t bear the sight 
of them. To her they represented something completely 
archaic, and she made up her mind they had to go. First she 
threw out liints about their being so old-fashioned. But Dad 
ignored this. Then she began to be more open about it. 

“Honey bun,” she would beg, “please, just for me, wear 
your other shoes tonight.” 

Paulette had a way about her. She could wheedle a lot of 
things out of Dad. But she wasn’t successful with the shoes. 
So one day she took a more daring action. She hid them — all 
three pairs. That night Dad went to put on his shoes and they 
were gone. We heard him in his room muttering to himself 
and moving things around. Then he rang his bell and Frank 
came flying up. Dad confronted him in the hallway. 



“Where are my shoes, Frank?” he demanded in shocked 

“’Aren’t they there, Mr. Chaplin?” Frank asked, surprised, 
and he went in to sec for himself. Dad followed him and came 
right out again. He had a dazed look on his face, and when he 
saw Syd and me standing there he appealed to us. 

“Charles! Sydney!” he said pleadingly. “Have you seen my 
shoes? . . . Oh, of course not,” he added with complete im- 
patience, not waiting for our answer. “Damn it, where are 

He called to Paulette; but Paulette, busy with her own 
preparations, gave him a vague answer. 

“Damn it, they must be somewhere!” Dad said, and dashed 
for the stairway. Syd and I tagged along after him, as per- 
plexed as he, and Frank came striding out of the room and 
joined us, shaking his head. 

Followed by all three of us. Dad went like a cyclone 
through the lower part of the house, looking for those shoes. 
He turned everything topsy-turvy, scouring cupboards, 
closets and cabinets. He moved furniture and looked behind 
the piano and the organ. As he became progressively more 
desperate, every unlikely as well as likely place was investi- 

“Damn it! Goddam it!” Dad kept muttering. “Where 
could they have gone?” He spoke as though the shoes had a 
mind of their own and had made off by themselves. “Where 
arc they, Frank?” 

If Frank had any idea he didn’t voice it. With true Oriental 
imperturbability he just went on helping Dad look. 

Paulette was dressed by this time. Looking as composed as 
a Reynolds portrait, she came breezing out of her room. 

“Come on, Charlie,” she said. “Aren't you ready yet? 
We’re going to be late.” 

“My shoes!” Dad shouted, reaching the boiling point at 
last. “Some goddam bloody bastard has stolen my shoes. I 
can’t go without my shoes.” 



“They’ll turn up tomorrow somewhere,” Paulette said 
placatingly. “Put your others on now, Charlie, and let’s go. 
Come on! It’s getting late.” 

Paulette could never bear to be late to parties, but her 
pleading didn’t do any good. 

“I can’t go without my shoes,” Dad reiterated, and he went 
on turning everything upside down in his desperate search. At 
last Paulette realized she wasn’t getting anywhere with her 
plot, and conveniently located the shoes — all three pairs of 
them. Dad put on a pair without a word and he and Paulette 

Dad had won that little fray, but there was a glint in Paul- 
ette’s eyes that said she hadn’t given up — not on the shoes, not 
on anything. She would continue pressuring Dad out of the 
quiet groove of his ultraconservatism, of which those shoes 
were a fitting symbol. 

She had that same gleam in her eyes whenever she surveyed 
the living room. “Oh, Charlie,’’ she said one day, “you know 
we ought to get rid of a lot of the stuff in here. It’s too 

Dad w'as reading at the time, but his head came up fast. 
“Why, what’s wrx)ng with it?” he said. “I don’t see a thing 
wrong.” And he cast a loving look around at his mementos, 
his photographs and whatnots that had been there so long 
they had almost taken root. 

“Oh, but, Charlie,” Paulette went on wheedling, “it’s such 
a beautiful room — with the proper drapes and a new carpel 
and up-to-date furniture. 1 can just picture it!” 

“Damn it, Paulette!” Dad snapped. “The room is perfectly 
all right.” 

Paulette appeared not to have heard Dad’s last remark. 
“Yes, Charlie, we should really redo the whole house,” she 
expanded ambitiously. “It needs repapering, repainting, re- 
carpeting. We could make a show place out of it.” 

“Show place!” Dad suddenly stormed, completely stirred 



up now. “Goddam it, Paulette, are you trying to break me 
with your extravagance?” 

But it really wasn’t so much the idea of spending money 
that was painful to Dad. lie had built the house, but the in- 
terior had grown up around him and was parr of him. He felt 
uneasy at having a single thing shifted from its rightful place, 
let alone completely removed. He could never bear drastic 
changes in his personal habitat. 

Paulette didn’t pursue the subject further that day, but 
you could see she hadn’t given up. She kept looking around 
the living room as though she were thinking things over to 
herself. Dad, preparing tf) immerse himself once more in his 
book, saw tlie expression in her eyes. He had won the vic- 
tory, he had put Paulette in her place. He had banished once 
and for all the threatening ogre of change. Still, he stirred 
uneasily in his chair. 


Pauiette didn’t get very far with her renovation of the house 
that fall, except for the removal of some of the more prosaic 
bric-a-brac in the front room. Dad continued stubbornly to 
reject all ideas of change. And Paulette herself was not just a 
typical housewife with a new husband to domesticate. She 
was also an actress with a career to further, and this was fore- 
most in her mind all through that fall of ’36. 

Her success in Modern Times had been instantaneous, and 
she knew as well as anyone that she ought to follow it up at 
once with another picture. Dad himself could see the logic in 
her reasoning. During their trip abroad he had spent most of 
his time aboard ship in his cabin working on .something in 
which to star her — a talkie he planned to produce but not 



appear in. But though he expected to return with a finished 
scrijU, nothing had come of it. 

All through the summer and fall he continued his search, 
making start after false start on ideas which looked promising 
to begin with but which he discarded almost immediately, 
like a miner whose promising lode peters out on him. Despite 
Paulette’s pleas to get her before the public again while she 
was still remembered, it was to be almost three years before 
he was ready to shoot a picture, a picuire that was to shock 
and stir audiences around the world both then and after the 
Second World War under the title of The Great Dictator, 
It has always been the irony of my father’s genius that, what- 
ever his good intentions, it could never be rushed but visited 
him with a creative idea only in its own good time. 

Dad was still hunting for that story for Paulette when 
Christmas came that year. Christmases at my father’s home 
form a composite picture in my mind, for every one of them 
was almost identical in style and texture. Even the weather 
was the same. As far back as I can remember, the Christmas 
days of my boyhood were sunshiny and mild. 

Accompanied by Nana, Syd and I arrived at Dad’s house 
around eleven — brunch was always at twelve. To walk into 
his home on that day was like going between the leaves of a 
Dickens novel, because Christmas for Dad was a typically 
British institution. As we came in the front door we could see 
the Christmas tree standing at the far end of the hall. It was 
always a stately white tree, tall enough just to miss the ceil- 
ing. It had been decorated the week before by the Japanese 
servants under the supervision of Frank. Christmas was just 
as much a day of celebration to them as to us, for Dad never 
omitted a generous bonus to each. 

Though the tree was beautiful, Syd and I seldom gave it 
more than a quick appraisal. We were far more interested in 
the stacks of presents underneath it. As wc walked down the 
hall. Dad came forward to greet us, a jovial father, all vexa- 
tions completely erased from his mind. Christmas represented 



drama to him, and every year of our boyhood he played that 
drama with little variation. 

“Well, boys,” he would say, seeing our eyes on the pack- 
ages, “I’m sorry but you don’t have so much this Christmas. 
Just a few little things. It’s been an expensive year.” 

Syd and I would recognize our cue. “That’s all right. Dad,” 
we would answer, getting just the right tone of disappoint- 
ment in our voices. 

“Well,” Dad would reply philosophically, rubbing his 
hands together with delight over his unfolding drama but 
carefully keeping the pleasure out of his voice, “we can’t 
have a big Christmas every year, can we, boys?” 

“Don’t worry about it. Dad,” Syd and I would answer, and 
as we grew more proficient at playing the game we learned 
to release an involuntary sigh. 

All morning friends and relatives had been gathering for 
brunch. There was our actor half-uncle, Wheeler Dryden, 
who had by this time followed Dad to California. Ilis son, 
Spencer, was younger than we and yet he could recite pages 
of Shakespeare, because his father had pounded it into him. 
He pounded so hard that when Spencer grew up he chucked 
the whole thing; the culture went down the drain fast, and 
Spencer became a jazz musician instead. Today he plays the 
drums most efficiently. 

Our father was always amused by Spencer’s knowledge of 
Shakespeare and sometimes he would brag about his accomp- 
lishments. Perhaps he had the hope of inciting us to do on our 
own what Spencer’s father had forced upon him, but if .so lie 
wasn’t successful. Syd and I couldn’t be jealous of Spencer, 
who was such a nice, mannerly little boy. And besides, we 
knew we had the better deal, a father who never made us 
learn a single line of anything. 

Uncle Sydney Chaplin was there, too, as was our macabre 
dinner guest. Dr. Reynolds, and Dad’s oldest friends, Amy 
and Alf Reeves. Tim Durant, whom Dad had just met that 
year through Director King Vidor, came with his daughter, 
Marjorie. Constance Collier, Anita Loos, King Vidor and, 



until his death in 1939, Doug Fairbanks and his wife, Lady 
Sylvia Ashley, were all Christmas Day visitors. Each of the 
■guests brought Syd and me a gift— a sweater, a billfold, a 
book — depositing it under the tree with the other packages. 

At twelve we sat down at the big table in the dining room. 
Christmas brunch was a carefree occasion. Gone was Dad’s 
strict insistence on manners that day. Syd and I might talk 
as we pleased, interrupt as we chose, laugh as much as we 
liked. Every year the menu was the same. It started with roast 
beef and ended with Yorkshire pudding — a plum pudding 
with rum on it which was set alight when it was time for 
dessert — and champagne for everyone. After brunch Dad 
always gave Syd and me a taste of the holiday champagne. 

Then we gathered around the tree to open our presents, 
and once again Syd and I found ourselves in the very center 
of the drama. Assuming resigned expressions, we began look- 
ing in the pile for the presents marked for us. One by one we 
sorted them out and opened them. \s our piles grew we 
allowed our faces to put on more and more astonishment. 

“All these for us, Father?” wc gasped. 

Dad chuckled at our perplexed delight. 

“Yes, they’re yours, boys.” 

“Bur you said . . .” wc let our words trail off in a be- 
wildered wav. We were ti’ulv happy about the presents, 
which were always lavish. But we were almost as happv play- 
ing the little drama with Dad. 

Two gifts stand out in my mind from that Christmas of ’36. 
One was an album of Ischaikovsky’s Concerto No. i in 
B-Flat Minor for piano and orchestra. One night at Dad’s 
house I had tuned the radio in on that concerto and, unable 
to tear myself away, had fallen asleep listening to it. Dad and 
Paulette had remembered and bought me the album. The 
other gift, as might have been expected, was from Paulette, 
and Svd and 1 didn’t find it under the Christmas tree. She 
slipped out of the room and came back with a pnppy under 
each arm — BcdliniTton terriers, one for each of us. .‘\nd now 
Dad found himself once more confronted with the problem 



of dogs, three instead of one, for Puddles, house-trained at 
last but with a very definite mind of her own, was still around. 

Dad thought the Bedlington terriers were cute, with their 
long ears and their pert sheep faces; however, he didn’t want 
them in the house cither. But with surreptitious aid from Syd 
and me they learned how to slip in, and we would all romp 
through the rooms together until Dad would become aware 
of what was going on. 

‘‘Get those filthy things out of here,” he would order 
sternly, and Syd and 1 and the Bedlington terriers, whom we 
had dubbed Punch and Judy, would fly for the outside door 
in a flurry of fur and heels. 

Once Christmas was over Dad went immediately back to 
the grind. He didn’t even take time out to accompany Paul- 
ette on a gay holiday house party given by King Vidor at 
his lodge in the San Bernardino mountains. W hen Paulette 
returned after six days she found Dad working away at white 
heat on his latest story. In the past year he had already run 
through one with an Oriental background and another one 
to be laid in the South Sea Islands, and toyed with heaven 
knows how many others. But he was convinced that this one, 
which was based on Regency^ a novel by 1). L. Murray, was 
the real thing. Dad’s enthusiasm, as always, was so whole- 
hearted that, listening to him talk, Paulette was sure she \vas 
on her way at last. 

Then that spring something else came up which really set 
her head spinning. David (). Sel/aiick w^as searching for some- 
one to play Scarlett O’Hara in his multiniillion-dollar pro- 
duction, Gone 'with the Wind, and he approached Paulette 
to make a test for him. It wms small wonder Paulette was 
excited. She had come to Hollywood an obscure little chorus 
girl, and the only role she had had since was the one of the 
gamin in Modern Times, a silent picture. And now Mr. Selz- 
nick was interested in her for one of the biggest starring parts 
in the history of the movies. 



But Dad didn’t share Paulette’s excitement. She was his 
wife and she was also under contract to him. He didn’t want 
her to be working for someone else. He kept doggedly on 
with Ills script. 

That was how Easter came to the Chaplins, and once more 
Dad put everything aside to celebrate a holiday. Up until this 
year Syd and I had not participated in the coloring of the 
eggs. But that Easter Eve wc were allowed to help Paulette, 
all three of us working away in the living room. Dad re- 
served for himself the hiding of the eggs, a chore he loved 
because of its conspiratorial nature. 1 have never ceased to be 
amazed at the simplicity of the things in which my father 
found so much pleasure. I cm remember him with that sly 
expression on his face, packing us off to bed early so he 
would have freedom to ymrk. He hid the eggs in the chairs 
and the sofa of the living room, in the dining room, out on 
the lawn. 

faistcr morning wc had a late breakfast together on the 
porch, and the relaxed atmosphere was like a burst of sun- 
shine after Dad's tension of the past months. A little later 
Syd’s and my friends gathered for the hunt. Soon there were 
children all over the place, squealing and g elling and teadng 
everything apart in their exuberant search. And there was 
Dad following right behind us with his hands clasped behind 
his back, as though to keep from rooting out the eggs himself. 

“Now yoirre hot! Now’ vou’re cold! Lukewarm now!” 
his steady monologue guided us like manikins on a string 
until wc had found them all. 

After Easter Dad went back to his Rc^cvey script, Paulette 
to waiting. But with a sinking heart she began to realize it was 
to be the same thing all over again. Dad was showing less and 
less enthusiasm for his story. It was petering out like the 

A feeling of desperation took hold of Paulette. It w^as now 



well over a year since the premiere of Modern Times, which 
had introduced her to the public. She was afraid that if she 
waited much longer she would be forgotten. And she began 
to turn an even more eager eye to the role of Scarlett O’Hara 
which Mr. Selznick was still dangling before her. Dad, how- 
ever, was as adamant as ever against her testing for the part. 

All this didn’t make for harmony in the Chaplin home, and 
the papers began to gossip about trouble between my father 
and Paulette. But we boys never were aware of any real fric- 
tion between them. They were always careful to keep their 
dissensions from us. 



Syd and I were too entranced by the shifting vagaries of 
childhood at this juncture to l)c troubled about anything 
in the adult world. We were at an age to enter wholeheart- 
edly into the macabre world introduced to us through our 
father’s ghost stories, and we couldn’t get enough of blood 
and violence and ghoulish horrors of all descriptions. 

The Japanese servants soon realized it would take more 
than their jokes and mild folk tales to keep us amused now, 
and when we took our meals Avith them they began to de- 
scribe for us the life of the knights of Japan. 1 hey vied with 
each other in bloodthirsty dcscriptioiv' of executions in which 
the samurai sword played a principal role. 

“Take that biggest sword,” Frank would say. “One swipe 


like this and the head is chopped off. Out in the streets, head 
after head. Blood everywhere. It’s a public execution in Japan. 
That’s how they used to do it.” 

“Yes, yes,” George would agree, making a chopping 
motion and then flinging both hands into the air as usual. 
“Off with head! Like that!” 

Then Frank would launch into further details of the gory 
scene, with Kay and George and whatever relatives might 
be present putting in their excited interpolations. From de- 
scriptions of the executions they went on to tell us other 
bloodcurdling tales. Syd and I pumped them mercilessly, 
and greedily sopped up everything from ghosts to the agile 
sport of Sumo wrestling. 

Later we would tell these stories to Dad. We could always 
count on his being a fascinated listener, and he showed great 
pleasure in w'hat he chose to regard as our interest in the 
customs and talcs of another race. But when we came to the 
stories of the Sumo wrestlers he couldn’t keep still. 

“Yes, I’ve seen them,” he would say. “They’re big, six feet 
tall, with huge bellies — powerful men.” 

Then Dad, who is only five feet, six and a half inches tall 
and slight of build, would suddenly become a Sumo wrestler. 
He would go through the motions of rubbing his hands in 
salt. He would crouch and try to lift himself by the belt. 1 le 
would go around in a circle, stalking in the ceremonial way 
that Sumo wrestling begins, d hen he would suddenly make 
a feint at an imaginary enemy, his eyes glittering with such a 
deadly expression that a chill would run through us. Dad is a 
small man, but when he was a Sumo wrestler he became 
frighteningly big. He seemed to fill the whole room. 

After Dad had depicted Sumo wrestling for us he would 
go on to describe the wrestling he had seen in Siam. 

“They box with their feet, too,” he said. 

All at once he became a bo.xcr from Siam, only he was bur- 
lesquing it so that it was a kind of dance, with Dad jumping 
into the air and tlurusting out his feet with an oomph every so 

1 66 


often. Each movement seemed so incredibly simple when 
Dad made it that we had to experiment for ourselves to real- 
ize how difficult, almost impossible, it really was. 

We never could top Dad. Whatever stories we told him 
he always managed to have one a little bit better than ours. 
Not that we didn’t try. We began to buy horror magazines 
by the stack from the drug store across the street from our 
school. We read every science-fiction and weird tale we could 
lay our hands on in search of a gem that would best him. 

At last one week end we thought we had one. It sent real 
shivers down our backs and wc were sure it would do the 
same to Dad. Wc could hardly wait to tell it to him. You 
could always count on his attention when you had something 
macabre to offer. 

“Oh, it’s very good,” Dad said when we had finished, and 
he seemed impressed with it, though, strangely enough, I 
can’t remember a single bit of the involved plot today. 
“Now,” he continued, rubbing his hands together in anticipa- 
tion, “let me tell you about something Dr, Reynolds and I 
did once.” 

Dad had only to name the doctor to send an anticipatory 
shiver down our spines. 

“One evening while you boys were at school, the doctor 
gave a very interesting anatomy lesson to some guests of 
mine,” Dad began. 

All at once, through the magic of his description, Syd and 
I were plunged into the event. In our imaginations we sud- 
denly find ourselves in the dining room, which is dimly 
lighted with a couple of candles. Around the table sit a group 
of queasy guests. The doctor and my father arc at the head of 
the table. Beside the doctor Something is lying on a great 
board supported by sawhorses. The Something is, of course, a 
human cadaver. 

From this point on Dad acts the entire story out for us, 
changing from part to part in a second. Now he is the doctor, 
solemn, efficient, dipping his fingers into an imaginary finger 

M 167 


bowl. He flicks them in the air and wipes them fastidiously on 
a napkin, equally imaginary. He picks up an imaginary scalpel 
and cuts into the invisible cadaver beside him, making careful 
incisions. One by one he brings out the heart, brain, kidneys, 
lungs, liver, stomach and tongue. Holding each carefully, as 
though under the candlelight, he gives a brief matter-of-fact 
discourse about its functions. (Dad had picked up as much 
medical lore from Dr. Reynolds as the doctor had pried loose 
the secrets of acting from him.) 

After the brief lecture. Dad, as Dr. Reynolds, passes each 
imaginary organ on. Then suddenly becoming himself he 
accepts it, examines it with that familiar tender expression on 
his face, and hands it to the next person. As it runs the length 
of the table Dad becomes every guest in turn. He is curious. 
He displays bravado. He becomes a fainthearted woman. At 
last the imaginary object returns to Dr. Reynolds, who lays 
it carefully aside, building up an invisible heap of discarded 
organs before our eyes. 

By the time Dad came to the end of his little tableau, Syd 
and I were popeyed. 

“Now,” Dad concluded, pretending to rinse his fingers for 
the last time, “Charlc.s, you and Sydney and the doctor and 1 
are all going to have a dinner just like that one night. Would 
you like it?” 

Syd and I only stared at him tongue-tied. Seeing our 
dubious expressions. Dad laughed aloud. 

“It’s only make-believe,” he said. “Just a horror story to 
match yours.” 

Despite Dad’s admission that everything he had told was 
fantasy, that macabre dinner scene continued to live in my 
imagination. For a long while 1 couldn’t even pass through the 
dining room without a sliiver when I came to the spot where 
he had placed his imaginary corpse. 

Everything was so wonderfully fascinating at the house on 
the hill that Syd and 1 hated to be sent packing back to 



prosaic Black-Foxe on Sunday evenings. As the hour ap- 
proached for our return, we would become gloomier and 
gloomier. Then Dad would give us a pep talk to put us in the 
right mood. 

“Oh, you boys are fortunate,” he would say. “Look at me. 
When I was your age I was out in the streets, hungry, cold. 
You don’t have to worry about any of those things. You have 
a steady income, a home, three meals a day. Schooling! I 
never had a chance to go beyond the fourth grade. Consider 
youi'sclvcs lucky.” 

When Dad talked about his childhood like that I would go 
back to school with my mind made up to appreciate my life, 
to study hard, and to take advantage of all the wonderful 
opportunities I had that my father had missed. I would fall 
asleep pitying the boy my father had been. And the next day, 
with all my firm resolutions floating around in my head, 1 
would find myself bounced back almost immediately into the 
hard reality of military life. I he pathetic image of the little 
boy in Kennington would fade from my mind. I would, iron- 
ically, discover myself envying instead the freedom he had 
known, finding his own food, later making his own way in 
the music halls, his own master, with no one to tell him what 
to do. 

Blue Monday! That was what all the boys called it at 
school, because it was so difficult to endure after the freedom 
of the week end. You couldn’t feel grateful for anything on 
Blue Monday, and I don’t know whether Syd even tried. We 
were still as different in personality as we could be and still as 
close to each other as any brothers have ever been. 

We had chosen different modes of behavior at school. I 
governed my deportment primarily to keep from spending 
my week ends there and in doing so earned the reputation 
for being a model pupil. But I had to pay a heavy price ft)r 
my exemplary behavior. I was tense and nervous throughout 
my whole stay at Black-Foxe. 

Syd never bothered about being exemplary. He was just 



Imppy-go-lucky Syd who still continued to challenge the 
grownups. I don’t think Syd could help himself. He auto- 
matically rebelled, turning ever)- thing into a big joke at the 
same rime. When a teacher went to ferule his hand, instead 
of holding it quietly out, taking his medicine and forgetting 
about it, Syd would shamelessly fling himself on the floor, 
groaning and writhing. 

“Don’t hit me! I’ll confess. I’ll confess,” he’d moan. 

The instructor couldn’t help laughing, but Syd got the 
feruling, and demerits besides. He’d start with a clear slate 
on Monday and by Friday he’d have enough demerits to hold 
him at school for the week end. Sometimes it seemed to me 
Syd spent more week ends at school than he did at home. 
Though Dad never discussed his feelings with us openly for 
fear of undermining authority, you could see he was put out 
about Syd’s detention, for he liked to have us visit him to- 

I missed Syd most at bedtime, alone in my bedroom with 
only my vivid imagination to keep me company, 

I remember the first night the idea came to me. It was an 
especially lonely night, with a gusty California wind blow ing 
outside. You could hear the intermittent scraping of the tree 
branches against the window's. I thought of Syd there in iiis 
bed at Black-Foxc. I thought of Paulette and Dad behind their 
locked doors, and the servants in their quarters in the base- 
ment. I felt completely shut off from everyone. 

Then I remembered Dad’s pistol in the night stand by his 
bed, and the wonderful samurai swords in the cabinet in the 
living room. I thought of them lying there side by side, 
curved and sharp in their lacquered sheaths. 

“Don’t touch them, don’t ever play with them,” Dad had 
told us so often. “Why, you might cut off your hand.” 

I thought of his order and how he disliked disobedience; 

I thought again of the samurai swords. Cautiously I went to 
my door and opened it and looked down the hall. Fverything 
was quiet. I hurried down the hall and the stairs. I was alone 



on the ground floor of the dark, mysterious house. I found 
the light switch and turned it on. There was light now in the 
lower hall. I flew down it barefoot to the living room, past the 
gaping mouth of the dining-room door — the dark room where 
I)r. Reynolds’ fanciful cadaver had lain, perhaps was lying 
still, a ghost to rise up and stop me. 

1 reached the living room, turned on a light and ran to the 
cabinet. I was terrified. My breath was coming in gasps. I 
flung open the cabinet door. In the hands of a giant samurai 
the big sword might prove very serviceable for executions, 
but it was too unwieldy for me. My fingers closed on the 
handle of the smaller one. I took it out of its sheath and left 
that in its customary place on the cabinet shelf, so no one 
would notice the sword vv'^as gone. 

I shut the cabinet door and gingerly tested the razor-sharp 
edge with my finger. I'hen I flashed the sword over my head 
several times. Suddenly I felt safe. Who could overpower me 
with a weapon like this" I turned off the living-room light, 
and my heart sank a little with the sudden darkness. I waved 
my sword in the direction of the dining room, at the ghost 
of the cadaver lurking there, and then sped down the hall for 
the stairway. I low shocked Dad would have been to see me 
flying along with that naked sword in iny hand! 

I turned off the lower-hall light and crept upstairs and 
down the upper hall to my own room. I shut mv door and 
locked it. I climbed into my bed, laying the sword on the 
night table beside me, and almost at once 1 fell into a deep, 
dreamless sleep. 

I woke with the dawn and got the sword back in its cabinet 
before anyone discovered it was gone. No one ever found out 
about it, though it wasn’t the last night by far that it kept me 


Though our father didn’t guess it at the time, he was to be 
harassed that summer and fall of 1937 by more than the diffi- 
culty of finding a suitable script for Paulette. Without Dad’s 
noticing it, Syd and I had reached “that age,’’ as it is despair- 
ingly called by parents. That is, we were eleven and twelve 
years old and so full of bravado we were ready to attempt 
anything and everything de.spite our father’s cautious coun.scl. 
That Fourth of July we even dared flout his ban against fire- 

Dad never celebrated the Fourth of July himself, any more 
than he did Guy Fawkes Day, the traditional patriotic Eng- 
lish holiday. He was never a flag waver for any country, and 
his complete lack of concern about an individual’s politics was 


to prove a major cause of trouble to him after the Second 
World War. But he loved to watch fireworks, and one year 
he even endured the press of crowds to take us to the Los 
Angeles Coliseum to sec the display. Firecrackers were a 
different matter, though. He hated them because their sharp 
explosions shattered his nerves, but he translated his appre- 
hension in terms of danger to us. 

“Don’t shoot firecrackers,” he warned us sternly. “Why 
you can get your hand blown off. You might be blinded for 
life.” Always the Chaplinesque hyperbole! But Syd and I 
were no longer impressed. We just took care he was not 
around to hear us when we fired them. 

We were no longer affccred by his disapproval of violence 
in general, cither. We came home bragging about the fights 
we’d won. I remember one week end telling him of a set-to 
I’d had with Bobby Keaton, Buster Keaton’s son. 

“You should never fight,” Dad told me reprovingly. 

But when I started to describe my fight. Dad became so 
interested he seemed to forget everything he’d said about vio- 
lence, and when I finished my story he nodded and said, 
“That’s in the old Chaplin tradition. You know your father 
was in a fight once, too.” And he launched into a graphic 

He was, he said, in a restaurant in New York City with 
several friends when he was spotted by a big man across the 
room. The man, according to Dad, was at least six feet tall 
and built to match. He’d been drinking. He came over to Dad 
with a martini in his hand. 

“Are you Charlie Chaplin?” he asked, and as Dad told it he 
became the man. 

“Yes,” Dad answered politely, becoming Dad again. 

“Well, I don’t like your face,” the man said belligerently. 

“Then why don’t you just go back to your table?” Dad 

“I ought to hit you in the teeth,” the man growled, and 
with that splashed his martini in Dad’s face. 



Dad was furious. Without thinking he jumped to his feet; 
his head came below the other man s chin. 

“That wasn’t very nice,” Dad said, and he grabbed the 
fellow by the necktie and in a flash jumped up and hit him 
right in the face with his big head. As Dad told me the story 
he jumped to his feet and showed me how it had been done. 
Dad can move like lightning and he has a lot of power in his 
movement, too. He broke the man’s nose, knocked out two 
of his front teeth and floored him. Then Dad saw the man’s 
friends, all big men, too, moving ominously toward him. 
Fortunately the police intervened before Dad had to use his 
head for a battering ram again. He dusted off his hands, which 
hadn’t even been involved, and returned to his dinner. 

Dad was carried away while he was telling the story, but 
afterwards he recollected himself. 

“You see,” he concluded, “your father knows how these 
things are. And it’s a good thing you won. But remember, no 
more fighting. Fighting is silly. Why take the chance of 
marring your features? ” 

But it wasn’t only daredeviltry or pugnaciousness with Syd 
and me. Surprising, even outlandish things just began to hap- 
pen to us — especially to Syd. There was the time he actually 
managed to get lost on the yacht while it was in the middle 
of the Catalina Channel one boisterous day. He was tucked 
away comfortably between two life boats while everyone, 
frantic for fear he’d gone overboard, was running all over the 
ship searching for him. Dad loat his head completely and even 
began pulling open drawers to sec if he was inside. 

But it must not be supposed that Syd was always just a 
victim of circumstance. He was a boy with ideas, too. Most 
of those ideas centered on ways to augment our weekly allow- 
ance of fifty cents which Mother or Nana gave us. Some- 
times Dad came to our rescue. On birthdays he could always 
be counted on for a monetary gift that ranged anywhere from 
fifty to five hundred dollars. And every now and then, out 
of the blue, he would reach for his wallet and hand us a 



five- or ten-dollar bill, cautioning us to spend it wisely. But 
we couldn’t depend on these unpredictable spurts of gener- 
osity. Sometimes to replenish our supply we tried to conduct 
tourist tours through our grounds at twenty-five cents a 
head. But tourists on Summit Drive were few and far be- 
tween. Then one day Syd got an even better idea. 

“Let’s set up a stand like kids do with lemonade,” he said 
when we arrived that Friday. 

“Who’ll buy lemonade from us up here, Syd?” I asked. 

“Not lemonade,” Syd said. “Liquor, Chuck. Come on. I’ll 
show you,” and he led the way to the kitchen. 

It must have been the servants’ day off, because no one was 
around. Syd found the key to Dad’s liquor closet and opened 
it. There stood the rows of bottles Dad had been collecting 
for years. 

“All the adults drink this sniff,” Syd said. “We can set up a 
stand right down at the end of the driveway. We’ll sell it to 
them as they come by. Fifty cents a bottle. We’ll be rich. 

The idea of the money sounded good to me. 

“But, Syd,” I said, “. . . Dad . . .” 

Syd waved his hand. 

“He’s got so much he probably won’t even notice. He’s 
rich. Chuck. Come on.” 

Swept away by Syd’s argument, I helped him with the 
bottles. We took out about forty of them and carried them 
down to a little stand we set up at the end of our driveway. 
There we waited for our first customer. He wasn’t long in 
coming. Fittingly enough, who should it be but David O. 
Sclznick, whose sleep we had so often interrupted with our 
motor glide. He backed our of his driveway across the street 
and saw our stand with the bottles on it and us waiting. He 
brought the car to our side of the street and parked and got 
out and examined the bottles. His eyes shone. 

“How much you boys selling these for?” he asked. 

“Fifty cents a bottle,” Syd and I piped up. 



“rU buy the Jot,” Mr. SeJznicIc said. And he did. We got 
about twenty dollars out of the deal. We helped Mr. Selznick 
load his purchase into his car — well over two hundred dollars’ 
worth of expensive Scotch and bourbon and fancy liqueurs. 
He seemed in a great hurry about it. He drove back across 
the street and into his driveway and got all the liquor into 
his house posthaste. 

Shortly afterwards Dad came home. He wasn’t around 
long before he called for Sydney and me. Wc went in and 
his ice-blue eyes bored into us. 

“Have you boys been drinking?” he demanded. “Come over 
here. Let me smell your breath.” 

He thought a minute and decided the question was ridicu- 
lous. “Well, no, I didn’t mean that,” he amended quickly. 
“But what did you boys do with the liquor that was in the 

If we had been thinking before that it wasn’t so hard to 
pull the wool over our father’s eyes, we knew better now. 
There wasn’t much that went on around his house he didn’t 
know about. He had discovered almost at once that the bottles 
were missing. 

“Well,” we said, stammering, “we sold it to make some 

“What?” Dad exploded. He was furious. “Goddam it,” he 
exclaimed, “it just isn’t done — to take your own parents’ 
things and sell them.” He choked, aghast at our perfidy against 
a father who had always so carefully restrained himself from 
interfering with any of our possessions. 

“Do you know what people bought them?” he said when 
he regained his voice. 

“Oh, just one person,” we told him, trembling. “Mr. Selz- 
nick across the street.” 

“Did he buy all of them?” 

“Yes, sir, he bought all of them.” 

Detesting the telephone as he does, Dad nevertheless picked 
up the phone that day and called Mr. Selznick. He explained 
that wc had taken the bottles without authorization. 



“So will you please return them?” he asked. “They’re very 
rare. A lot of them are imports and I had a hard time getting 

But Mr. Sclznick was enjoying the joke too mucli to give 
up the bottles so readily. I don’t know how he and Dad finally 
settled the matter between them, or if it was ever settled, but 
I do know that Syd and I had now to pay the piper for our 
unfortunate get-rich-quick scheme. Dad turned back to us 
and began a lengthy discourse, much on the order of a prose- 
cutor at court. I he more he talked the smaller we shrank, 
and when he began listing all the fitting punishments we de- 
served, we truly felt like criminals. 

“I could keep you in bed all week end. That’s what I’ll do. 
I’ll lock you up. Yes, they lock thieves up in jail. I’ll have my 
own jail here for you, because that was stealing, boys.” He 
ran on and on. 

He was very angry, and wc were scared, of course, but it 
was more than that. Wc could feci obscurely that he was 
hurt, too, that we had betrayed him. That was what made 
the whole thing so terrible. 

Finally Dad talked himself out and came down to leveling 
the penalty. As Syd and I were expecting by this time, it was 
a stiff one. Bed right now, this afternoon, and bed Saturday 
and Sunday at six o’clock promptly. No dinner for any of 
those nights, no home movies, no playing with our friends. It 
sounded like a very dismal week end. 

Syd and I went upstairs quietly. Quietly wc got into our 
pajamas and into bed. Perhaps wc cried a little, I don’t re- 
member. Wc were very subdued, and it came to us lying 
there that our transgression had been so flagrant that not even 
Paulette, though she was around, had been moved to come to 
our defense or to say a word in our behalf. The day length- 
ened, finally turned into twilight. Night came and with it 
hunger. Wc were soon very hungry, and it didn’t help to 
know that dowmstairs they were eating now^ It was a lonely, 
melancholy feeling away up there in the dark. 

Then suddenly the door opened. Someone felt for the light 



switch and turned it on. It was Paulette. She carried a tray 
and on the tray were steaming dishes of George’s food, filling 
the room with their wonderful aroma. Paulette quietly shut 
the door. 

“Shhh,” she said. “Your father doesn’t know. I just felt 
sorry for you boys.” 

She brought the tray over and set it on the night stand. 

“Bur of course,” she added, “it was wrong to sell the liquor 
like that. Your father’s very upset.” 

What could we say to Paulette except to let her see the 
gratitude in our eyes and to pitch into that dinner? 

Every one of those three nights Paulette stole up with a 
tray of food for us. Every night she came in softly whispering, 
“Shhh, your father doesn’t know. But I thought )ou boys 
ought to have something to cat.” 

Goodhearted Paulette, braving our father’s wrath, faithful 
ally, loyal pal. It was only later, after we were much older, 
that we came to realize the truth. Dad, whose eagle eyes never 
missed much, must have known what Paulette was doing 
every night — mitigating a punishment he had made too harsh. 
He had known and hadn’t stopped her. 


1 don’t know how many ideas my father mulled over in his 
long search for a story for Paulette, hut 1 do recall some inter- 
esting details about one of them. It came to him by way of a 
curious little item which someone clipped from a newspaper 
and mailed him. The item concerned an edict by Adolf Hitler 
banning Chaplin films from Germany because Dad looked 
so much like him. 

Something clicked in my father’s mind when he read it. In 
the Little d'ramp getup, with the silly mustache, he plainly 
did resemble Hitler. And when he looked further he saw 
other points of similarity between himself and the German 
dictator. They had been born in the same year, in the same 
month, just four days apart, and both had known extreme 



poverty in their childhood. But their destinies were poles 
apart. One was to make millions weep, while the other was 
to set the whole world laughing. Dad could never think of 
Hitler without a shudder,, half of horror, half of fascination, 
“Just think,” he would say uneasily, “he’s the madman. 
I’m the comic. But it could have been the other way around.” 
And he couldn’t resist concluding with the quote, “There 
but for the grace of God go I.” 

The more Dad thought of the dictator’s ban against his 
pictures and his own resemblance to Hitler, the more in- 
trigued he became by the idea as a whole. He began casting 
about in his mind for a plot and incidents with which to fill 
it out. 

About this time he met Konrad Bcrcovici. Bercovici’s boast 
of having Gypsy blood was enough to recommend him to 
Dad, and for a while he was a constant visitor at the house. 
He too commented on Dad’s resemblance to Hitler. One 
thing led to another, and before long Dad and Bercovici were 
tossing ideas back and forth. Dad often used his friends and 
acquaintances as sounding boards in this fashion. 

But long before he began doing any serious work on the 
Hitler idea, his enthusiasm for Bercovici had died out. This 
has happened to a 'number of people. Dad has an incurable 
enthusiasm and expresses it so wholeheartedly that they get 
the impression they’re indispensable to him, but for Dad it is 
often a temporary emotion. Once they are out of sight he 
forgets them completely, or else he just wearies of them and 
withdraws himself from their company. 

So it was with Bercovici. Dad stopped seeing him altogether 
and at the same time he threw the idea of doing something 
about Hitler into the discard. Hitler, he decided, was too grim 
a figure to provide good material for a comedy. 

The year 1938 found Dad still with no script for Paulette. 
To complicate matters further, Mr. Selznick continued to be 
very interested in having her work for him. In fact, I think 



it was her signing of a long-term contract with him that fore- 
shadowed the end of her marriage to Dad, But of course it 
went deeper than the Selznick episode. The root of the whole 
trouble was that perennial Hollywood plaint between mar- 
ried players: career. Dad was satisfied with things as they 
were, but Paulette had a need to establish herself in her own 
right, to prove to the world that site could be something more 
than just the protegee and wife of a world-renowned star. 

The dissension between Dad and Paulette had become so 
strong by February that Dad quietly left town one week end 
to get a respite from it. Inviting Tim Durant to join him he 
went up north for a holiday at Pebble Beach. Tim, whom Dad 
was later to appoint his personal representative at United 
Artists, was his logical choice for a companion. My father 
admired his honesty and his staunch New England conven- 
tionality. I remember how he used to refer to him affection- 
ately as the “irreconcilable Yankee.” He liked his companion- 
ship because he was not only easy to get along with but 
superb at bouncing both ideas and tennis balls. It isn’t sur- 
prising that in the years ahead Tim came to be regarded by 
Hollywood as Dad’s closest and most loyal friend. 

Before it was all over. Dad’s week end of flipht had 
stretched into five long months. Through Tim Durant my 
father rented a house overlooking the ocean from Mrs. Estelle 
Monteaglc, a Pebble Beach socialite. He sent for George and 
Kay and just struck roots there, severing himself completely 
from Paulette, from us, from the whole world of Hollywood. 

Syd and I missed him, and we missed the house on the hill 
with its aura of magic and excitement. But we had compensa- 
tions. Paulette still came around to take us places occasion- 
ally, and our mother had become her old cheerful self, so that 
we had the freedom of the ranch where she lived. And we 
also had a father substitute — ^well, not exactly a substitute, for 
we never looked at him that way. I’m speaking of Arthur 
Day, the Los Angeles salesman whom our mother married 
the following summer. He was a friendly, cheerful man who 



took US to ball games and on outings. We thought of him as 
a pal then, and even after he had married our mother he re- 
mained in the same category. But that spring he helped fill the 
vacuum left by our father’s departure. 

And so we come to Dad’s interlude at Pebble Beach, which 
is just outside Carmel, the famous artist colony. Pebble Beach 
is the Gold Coast of Northern California. Its twenty-si.x-mile 
drive is lined by the magnificent homes of San Francisco 
millionaires whose fortunes, the accumulation of generations, 
were amassed in days when taxes were low. Capitalists in 
every sense of the word, born and bred to their life of luxury, 
none of them have ever had to cope with any economic prob- 
lem at the level of dire need. 

Among these people Dad at first lived the life of a recluse, 
concentrating all his attention on the troublesome script for 
Paulette and refusing to see anyone. But after a couple of 
weeks Tim Durant ran into an old friend, the former Peggy 
Brokaw, a New York society girl who had married into the 
socially prominent Crocker family and was out west on her 
honeymoon. Through her. Dad gradually became acquainted 
with Pebble Beach society and was presently drawn into the 
round of entertainment that was a large part of the life there. 
He became so popular with the denizens of Pebble Beach that 
presently no one thought of giving a party without inviting 
him. They even asked him up to their homes in San Francisco. 

During their stay at Pebble Beach, Dad and Tim Durant 
repaid their social obligations by taking over the Pebble Beach 
Lodge and giving a mammoth dinner, with a band, a couple 
of imported movies and champagne in rivers. Everyone came. 

It was a high point of the social season. Even today, twenty 
years later, it is still remembered there as a memorable event. 

Champagne and caviar — Dad loved it all and what it repre- 
sented: luxury, leisure, the opportunity to cultivate and in- 
dulge good taste. It was a of mutual attraction between 
him and the millionaires of Pebble Beach. Dad always got 



along well with millionaires anyway, either in California or 
New York. After all, he’s a multimillionaire in his own right 
and he takes great pride in referring to himself as a capitalist. 

The difference between him and most of the millionaires 
with whom he associated was that he had intimately known 
the other side of the scale. He was both amazed and highly 
amused by the social set’s conception of what constitutes 
poverty. One of his favorite stories highlights this view and 
concerns the I larrison Williams family, with whom he and 
'fim Durant once spent a week end on Long Island. They 
were discussing the stock market crash of 1929, an event 
which Tim, who was a member of the Stock Exchange in 
those days, had witnessed first hand. During the course of the 
conversation Mrs. Williams recalled how her husband broke 
the news to her. What was funny to Dad was that she told the 
story factually, without in the least seeing the humor in it. 
Her husband, she said, came home one day in a very gloomy 
frame of mind. “Something terrible has happened,” he told 
his wife. “The market has collapsed. We lost thirty million 
dollars. We only have seventy million left.” 

Dad could never get over that “only.” 

My father had lost money in the crash himself, but he 
wasn’t cleaned out because he had been shrewd enough to buy 
his stocks outright, so that he was able to hang on to them 
when the values went down and he still had them when they 
started going up again. I think he got burned once on a phony 
Mexican deal. After that swindle, in which he lost heavily. 
Dad never bought on margin again, and he always picked 
established stock like A.T.&T. He has a good business head 
for an artist. 

But an artist he primarily is. His role among the society 
people of Pebble Beach was that of an obscr\’er, a commenta- 
tor on life. He was quick to see that though his new friends 
had no real economic worries, they had as many emotional 
problems as anyone ekse. And this intrigued Dad, with his 
sense of the dramatic. He studied them all, tucked them away 



for future reference and, of course, pantomimed them 
superbly whenever the opportunity arose. 

My father didn’t confine himself to the social set at Pebble 
Beach. He was Just as interested in the Bohemian colony at 
nearby Carmel. Here, too, he judged people by what they 
were. Wealth alone doesn’t make a person stuffy any more 
than having artistic inclinations makes him interesting. Dad 
noted just as many stuffy people among the Bohemians at 
Carmel as anywhere else. He thought many of them im- 
mature — they did a lot of talking but not much getting down 
to business. Dad has never had any patience with a dilettante 
attitude toward creative work. He’s a slave to his own muse 
and he expects anyone else in that field to be as sincere as he. 

He found this sincerity in California’s great poet, Robinson 
Jeffers, who lives in a big stone house on Point Sur. Dad 
made the acquaintance of the poet through a mutual friend 
who invited them both out to dinner, and he visited Jeffers 
several times after that. He admired the poet’s maturity and 
honesty of purpose, but I think, all in all, Jeffers was a little 
too dour for Dad’s fun-loving spirits. 

My father also admired the very real acting talents of an 
unknown whom he saw perform in the theater at Carmel. She 
was the ill-fated Dorothy Comingore, who was to achieve 
movie fame in several years by playing the leading female 
role in Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane. In later years Dad was to 
be impressed in the same way by another red-haired girl with 
similar latent talents and a similar unbalanced personality, 
Joan Barry. 

A name with which Dad’s was romantically linked at 
Pebble Beach was that of Geraldine Spreckels, the sugar 
heiress. Though Dad was supposed to be married to Paulette, 
neither he nor she had yet confirmed their status — a public 
confirmation was to come, ironically, just before their separa- 
tion — ^and this indefiniteness set the reporters like blood- 
hounds on the trail of Miss Spreckels. 

“We’ve never exactly discussed marriage,” Miss Spreckels 



responded in a rather tongue-in-cheek interview. “A tea here, 
a luncheon there, a little time aboard a yacht or on the beach 
at Carmel . . . that’s all I’ve seen of him recently . . . Yes, I 
like Mr, Chaplin very much. I think it would be nice for any- 
one to be Mrs. Chaplin.” 

During his stay up north. Dad didn’t confine himself to 
Pebble Beach and its environs. Me was a great admirer of 
another hard worker, John Steinbeck, and visited him at his 
home in Los Gatos. Dad was fascinated by Steinbeck’s books 
and used to drive around the countryside where his stories 
were laid, trying to place the characters in the books in their 
proper locations. 

But Dad didn’t spend all his time sightseeing or visiting or 
being entertained. The giant part of the day went to work. 
He spent hours bouncing ideas back and forth with Tim, and 
writing.' He was still angry with Paulette, so angry he 
wouldn’t even answer the phone when she called, begging to 
speak to him. 

“Oh, to hell with it,” he would say, though he was writing 
the female lead for her. 

It was the story of a young millionaire who takes a cruise 
to China and meets and falls in love with a beautiful White 
Russian employed in a dance hall. The picture was to be a 
comedy with social implications. Dad was writing it with 
Gary Cooper in mind for the male lead. He was a great fan 
of Cooper’s, not because he thought him a fine actor, but be- 
cause Cooper didn’t even try to act. He was always himself 
and thus completely believable. Dad was excited about this 

But at the same time, perversely, ideas about the discarded 
Hitler script kept coming into his head and clustering around 
the central nucleus of his resemblance to the dictator. He dis- 
cussed these ideas with Tim, too, perhaps more as a form of 
amusement, bouncing them off him as before he’d bounced 
them off Bercovici. Presently, for no logical reason, he 
brought out of the mothballs the plot of an old story he had 


had for a long while, but hadn’t yet done. It was built around 
an impostor who took the place of Napoleon. 

From as far back as I can remember, Dad had wanted to do 
this story of Napoleon, which would have been a biting satire 
on the Little Corporal. For a while he thought of playing the 
lead himself, and once he considered James Cagney for the 
role, but Cagney didn’t seem interested. After The Great 
Dictator had been brought to the screen. Dad talked of doing 
the Napoleon story with Greta Garbo in the female lead, 
himself in the male lead, Jean Renoir directing and the late 
Dudley Nichols writing the screenplay. I can’t help thinking 
what a picture it would have been with Garbo and my father 
co-starred. But though several conferences were held, nothing 
came of that, either. I think the reason Dad never did his 
Napoleon story is because he had already done it in The 
Great Dictator, with 1 litler raking the place of Napoleon. 

About the time my father’s interest in the Mirier story was 
reviving, Bercovici came up with Melvyn Douglas for a week 
end at Pebble Beach, and he and Dad talked generally about 
The Great Dictator again. It was this exchange of ideas, both 
in Beverly Hills and that night in Pebble Beach, whiclt Berco- 
vici made the grounds for a plagiarism suit against Dad in 
1947, seven years after The Great Dictator was released. Per- 
haps something more than plagiarism was involved. In his ex- 
uberance Dad may have made some vague suggestion that 
Bercovici do the screenplay. But suggestions like this come a 
dime a dozen in Flollywood, and there was no definite com- 
mitment. On the other hand. Hitler was common property 
and Dad could prove by his scrapbook that he had been seri- 
ously considering the idea before he ever met Bercovici. Tim 
Durant, who testified for my father, told me he thought 
Bercovici would have had a hard time winning the case if 
Dad had fought it through to the end. But by that time Dad 
had had enough of trials, having been dragged through the 
courts on the Mann Act charge and the two paternity suits 
Joan Barry brought against him. He decided to settle by pay- 


ing Bercovici ninety-five thousand dollars with the stipula- 
tion that Bercovici drop all claim to coauthorship of The 
Great Dictator. 

At the end of June, Paulette came up to Pebble Beach to 
sec Dad, bringing us along with her, perhaps as a peace offer- 
ing. At that time he had an almost completed screenplay to 
show her. But he was also still playing around with his Hitler 
ideas, which, like the jagged bits f^f a jigsaw puzzle, kept 
fitting themselves together. Impostor . . . little Jewish barber 
. . . young Jcwisli girl . . . things were clicking into place at 
a faster and faster rate of speed. 

With our arrival, however. Dad forgot ever\^thing from 
Cooper to Hitler and threw himself into the business of en- 
tertaining us. Almost immediatelv lie and Paulette were back 
in the same close relationsliijv Paulette was accepted b\^ 
Pebble Beach society as his wife and it was dutifully noted 
by the ever vigilant reporters that w hen she entered a golf 
tournament at the club she signed her name Mrs. Chaplin. It 
w'as newsworthy because it w as one of the rare times she 
used that title instead of her own name. 

As for Syd and me, we found our Pebble Beach interlude 
delightful. We did some \ achting, and w ent on several drives 
through the countryside. Dad w ent horseback riding with us 
a couple of times, though he had no real fondness for the 
sport. And then there w’as the house, the haunted house that 
stands out in my mind as the highlight of the w hole trip. 

It was a vacant house not far from where w e lived. Dad and 
Tim must have spent hours planning the spook show they put 
on for us there. 

Around dusk of the day before Syd and I were to go back 
to Hollywood by train. Dad began to talk to us about this 
house and the w eird things that went on in it. We believed 
every' word he said. It w asn’t that, as boys, w e w ere especially 
gullible, Dad just has a knack about him that way. Even Tim 
couldn’t withstand his graphic descriptions. After twenty 



years he still remembers the verbal picture Dad painted for 
him of a certain man at Pebble Beach who, Dad was always 
convinced, would one day be murdered by his nagging wife. 
“We will go in that house,” Dad used to say to Tim each 
time they went up the front walk to ring the bell, “and there 
we will find his severed head in the very center of the marble 
floor, waiting to greet us. Sooner or later it’s bound to 

So it was with Syd and me and the ghosts which Dad de- 
scribed so vividly. We didn’t notice that while he was talking 
Tim had slipped out. With a length of heavy chain, he made 
off for the house and ensconced himself on the top floor. 

“If you don’t believe me, come along and see for your- 
selves,” Dad said to Syd and me after he’d given Tim enough 
time to get in position. 

So we went with Dad to the house and he let us into the 
living room. There in the semidarkness he resumed his 
macabre ghost story. Suddenly he was interrupted by a 
“Whoooo,” like the wind, floating down from the top floor. 

“Hear that?” Dad whispered. 

Syd and I shivered. 

Dad resumed his story. Suddenly there was another 
“Whoooo.” Then followed a soft, dismal groan and a muffled 
cry and another groan. Syd and I were already teetering on 
our heels when the climax came. Clink, clank, clank, a chain 
was rattling across the floor. It was enough. We fled from the 
house. Dad right at our heels, acting as frightened as we were. 

Syd and I talked about that haunted house until we fell 
asleep. We dreamed about it that night, and the next morning 
at breakfast, to Dad’s and Tim’s amusement, we were still dis- 
cussing it. 

By chance the grownups had an appointment that morning 
and couldn’t see us to the train. But the railroad depot was 
within easy walking distance, so they told us good-by and left. 

We had time on our hands, and our thoughts kept going 
back to the house with the ghosts. 



“Let’s go see it in daylight,” Syd suggested presently, and 
I agreed. 

We walked to the house and strolled around it. It was obvi- 
ously vacant, haunted; its broad bay windows seemed to 
glitter in the sunlight with a sinister reflection. 

“Let’s knock the ghosts out,” Syd suddenly cried ener- 

“Yes, let’s get rid of them,” 1 said. 

Self-appointed exorcisers, we picked up rocks and began 
hurling them at the big plate-glass windows. It was fun, and 
we did a thorough job. We broke practically every window 
in the house before we hurried off to catch our train. 

It was only during that long ride back to Hollywood, 
when we were freed of the magical spell our father had cast 
over us, that we began to think of the house realistically. It 
had been vacant, but it hadn’t looked like a deserted place — 
too well kept for that. And the windows, the big plate-glass 
wimlows — expensive! 

“Do you suppose there really were ghosts. Chuck?” Syd 
ventured at last. 

“I don’t know,” I faltered. “Maybe we shouldn’t have . . .” 

“I don’t think we should have, Chuck.” 

A stab of horror went through us, as we remembered the 
elegant house standing gaunt and mutilated with all its win- 
dows broken. 

“Dad’ll be mad, real mad,” I summed up the situation. 

“I don’t think we’d better go see him when he comes back,” 
Syd said. “Thar is, if we know what’s good for us.” 

I nodded. It was the pnulent course to follow, but at the 
thought I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. All spring we 
had been exiled from the house on the hill, and now, after a 
wonderful reunion with our father at Pebble Beach, we 
would have to be exiled from him again. 


My father came home from Pebble Beach toward the end 
of July. VVe knew from the papers that he and Paulette were 
back, but we didn’t phone him. Much as we wanted to, we 
didn’t dare. He didn’t phone us, cither, though always be- 
fore he’d made a point of getting in touch with us. So we 
were sure he was angry with us. Perhaps he thought we had 
turned into a couple of young gangsters and didn’t want to 
have anything more to do with us. 

The rest of the summer went by and Syd and I were 
back in school before the fascination of the house on the 
hill became too much for us and we decided to get in touch 
with Dad whatever the consequences. Frank, of course, an- 
swered the phone. 



“Where you been?” his jovial voice came over. “Sure, 
come up and see him. He’s your farhah, isn’t he?” 

So that Friday Syd and I went back. 

“I haven’t seen you for a long while,” Dad said. He spoke 
in a mild voice. But from the way he looked at us Syd and 
I knew he was thinking of the broken windows in the house 
at Pebble Beach. We didn’t say anything, but it wasn’t nec- 

“You know,” Dad was going on, “kids can go to reform 
school for breaking windows in liouscs. It’s an outrageous 
thing to do. And besides, your poor father here working so 
hard while you boys are having fun maliciously destroying 

“We didn’t mean to. Dad,” we tried to put in. “We just 
thought we’d scare the ghosts away.” 

“I don’t care what you thought, you were destroying 
property,” Dad went on. “Now suppose I didn’t pay for 
it, what would happen to you? Well, you would be arrested 
by the police . . .” 

On and on the lecture ran. It was just as it had been when 
we sold the bottles of liquor to .Mr. Sel/.nick. Just as then, 
we knew the verdict in the end could only be “Guilty!” 
And we waited with sinking hearts for the sentence. 

“Boys, it cost me a lot of money, over fifteen hundred 
dollars,” the voice of the prosecution waN concluding. “Now 
never do that again. If vou do. I’ll really punish you.” 

That was all — no sentence, no penalty, just that stern but 
calm lecture. Tins was something new, and Syd and I went 
away dazed. But after we’d talked it over we realized we had 
just discovered a valuable clue to our father’s pcrsonalit\'. If 
you could escape the moment of his first wrath you were 
safe. His angers might be quick and intense, but appaiently 
he didn’t carry a grudge. 

We were back in the house on the hill, back with Dad and 
Paulette. The rift between them had narrowed again without 



its existence ever having been apparent to Syd and me. The 
marriage still looked as durable as rock to us. 

Paulette, who was sure her career was on the move at 
last, was happy. She had played a small role in The Young 
in Heart, and audience reaction to her had been good. She 
had been signed by MGM for an important role in Drama- 
tic School, with Luise Rainer, which would keep her busy 
that fall. And she was still being seriously considered for 
the Scarlett O’Hara role. Even more promising was the 
fact that Dad had come up at last with a completed script, 
the script in which he planned to star Paulette and Gary 
Cooper. It was ready for production, the first time such a 
thing had happened in the past two years. Dad even went so 
far as to have an interview with Cooper for the role. 

Where my father was concerned, however, things still 
weren’t going to move as fast as Paulette imagined. Up at 
Pebble Beach he had isolated himself from newspapers and 
radio, and when he came back and saw what was happening 
in the world he was shocked. Hitler, his double, was spread- 
ing monstrous tentacles beyond the bounds of Germany, 
and within Germany there were terrible persecutions of the 
Jews. Suddenly Dad saw a purpose for his comedy beyond 
the mere art of muking people laugh. It could also, through 
the medium of satire, waken people to the horror of dic- 
tatorship. It became his mission to hold up the mirror of 
ridicule to his alter ego, the mad Hitler, and show him for 
what he was — an evil buffoon. Dad put aside the script he 
had worked on so laboriously for the past six months and 
once more flung himself into the Hitler idea, which he was 
then calling The Dictator. 

For three years now he had been caught up on successive 
waves of enthusiasm. But the difference between that steady 
writing and what he was now doing was that in the previous 
ventures he had been decidedly the master. In The Great 
Dictator, however, his genius was in the driver’s seat and Dad 
was only carried along. 



We were all in the surge of the mounting roller with him. 
Just as when I was younger, I wanted to be a part of it, 
to help my father in any way I could. And so it made me 
feel important to have him search all through the house 
calling, “Charles, where are you? Charles, listen to this!” I 
was just a boy of thirteen, and yet he had come to depend 
on me. But I knew it wasn’t my opinion he wanted. What 
he needed always was encouragement. 

As I grew older my father had lost the mythical quali- 
ties with which he was surrounded in my childhood, but he 
was now even more awe-inspiring to me as an international 
figure. He was a celebrated person upon whom great men, 
many of them geniuses in their own right, came to call, 
and who, when he went abroad, was invited to their homes. 
Men like Lion Feuchrv\'anger, Il.G. Wells and Jean Cocteau 
all had been his guests. lie was always showing us new 
awards he had received from cinema groups and other or- 
ganizations around the world. 

He had been honored by various nations, too, and some- 
times he brought out these trophies for Syd and me to see. 
He showed us the documents, the medals and ribbons among 
which was the French Legion of Honor decoration. 

Once Dad told us a funny story about his medals. During 
his trip to England in 1931 he had become good friends 
with the Prince of Wales, now the Duke of Windsor. He 
used to see a great deal of the Duke, who one day invited 
him to a ball. 

“Wear your medals,” he said offhandedly. “Everyone who 
has any will.” 

Dad had about five of these big medals. He pinned them 
all on and went to the ball, sounding like a medieval knight 
in armor — clink, clink, clinking around with the medals flop- 
ping all over his breast. He looked about and saw with con- 
sternation that the other guests were just wearing the rib- 
bons that go with the medals. He stole out as inconspicuously 
as possible — which wasn’t easy, considering the racket the 



flashy medals were making — and exchanged them for the 
ribbons. He had learned the hard way what royalty meant 
when it said, “Wear your medals.” It was one of Dad’s most 
embarrassing moments, but afterwards, such is the caliber 
of his humor, he loved to tell that joke on himself. 

Dad also told us that he had been approached for a possible 
knighthood in England but had turned down the suggestion. 
He didn’t believe in titles but only in the achievements of 
the individual. Syd and I were proud that our father had 
been considered for a knighthood, and I guess there were 
times we couldn’t help wishing he had overcome his odd kind 
of inverted snobbery, which is ba.scd on the nobility of crea- 
tive.ncss, and accepted it. It would have given us a thrill to 
refer to him as Sir Charles. That was then. At a later age we 
were openly to take him to task for another omission, that 
of not becoming a citizen of the United States. 

A^'hen he showed us all his honors Dad would impress us 
with the fact that these things had been won without benefit 
of a formal education, that Ite had had to pull himself up by 
the proverbial bootstraps. And it would all end in a grave 
lecture to us to take advantage of our opportunities and be 
good students. 

Studying was in some ways hard for me. I had been, like 
my father, left-handed, but 1 had been l)roken of the trait 
at a preschool age and it liad affected both mv studies and 
my speech, so tl\c school nurse surmised. I did not stammer 
as a child; when I got excited I simply was not able to talk 
at all. The words M’ould stick in my throat. I also slower 
at learning than many of the other pupils, so that it took me 
longer to achieve what seemed to come to them with enviable 

But I found compensation for my hard work in the interest 
Dad showed in my progress at school. Now that Syd and I 
were in junior high, we were taking our studies seriously. 
Sometimes when I came home from school with my books. 



Dad would lay aside his writing to look at them. He was 
especially interested in grammar and rhetoric. 

“Let’s see what you’ve learned this week,” he would say, 
in his role of a father checking up on his son’s progress. 
“What is this now, son?” And he would ask me a question 
about some point of grammar. 1 would give him the answer 
and sometimes he would shake his head and correct me. At 
other times he’d nod approvingly. 

“Well, that’s very good, son.” 

Then just for fun 1 would pop a question at him. Some- 
times we’d have a friendly argument over who was right and, 
in the end, go to the grammar for verification. Sometimes 
Dad would catch himself up with a quick flustered shake of 
his head. 

“No, no, no, that’s wrong, of course. Now let me sec. The 
subjunctive is like this.” 

And we’d study English together for a couple of hours. 
Even as a child 1 realized that, under the cloak of seeing 
how much 1 knew. Dad was brushing up on his own English. 
It seemed strange to me that a grown man who no longer 
needed to trouble himself with such things should show so 
much avidity for what I considered a tedious chore, but for 
years Dad had been trying to make up for his lack of formal 
schooling. He had an old dog-eared grammar which he 
studied and which he kept about him for reference. He 
wanted to speak perfect, not just passable, English. Nana re- 
calls how when they were living at the house, she and 
Mother would sometimes correct Dad’s grammar. 

“Well, who invented the language and who has the right 
to make these rules anyway?” Dad would laugh. But he never 
took exception and he seldom made the same mistake twice. 
Today nobody has cause to correct his grammar, for it’s 

Though my father admits to not being very good at 
spelling, his vocabulary has always seemed tremendous to 



me. As a child I thought he knew every word in the dic- 
tionary as well as its derivation. I used to carry a pocket 
dictionary around with me to check up on him privately. 
But much as I tried I could never catch him in an error. 

Another thing that impressed me about my father was his 
habit of reading. It became almost an obsession with me to 
catch up with him. Now and then Mother, who had suffered 
so much ill health herself, became fearful I might hurt mine, 
and would separate me from my books and literally drive me 
outdoors to play. 

In those days Dad’s store of knowledge seemed bottomless 
to me. He knew the classics — the Bible, Shakespeare, Plu- 
tarch’s Lives, Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy and 
Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson. One of his favorite stories, 
which illustrates Dad’s interest in the meticulous use of 
words, concerns Dr. Johnson and a modish young matron 
with whom he was sharing a carriage. Dr. Johnson was most 
slovenly in his person and the young lady felt called upon 
to take him to task for it. 

“Dr. Johnson, you smell,” she said bluntly. 

“I beg your pardon, madam,” Dr. Johnson gravely replied. 
“I stink. You smell.” 

Among the fiction writers, Dad’s favorites were Charles 
Dickens and Maupassant, perhaps because of the peculiar 
combination of the humorous and the macabre in their works. 
He also liked Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde and Mark 
Twain. The philosophers he read included Nietzsche, Emer- 
son, Robert Ingersoll (whom he got through when he was 
seventeen), Schopenhauer and Spengler. I remember how 
one day when I was older my father took down a volume of 
Schopenhauer and handed it to me. 

“You ought to read him, son,” he said. “You don’t need 
to take him too seriously, though — especially what he says 
about women. He’s bitter, a great pessimist, but he’s amusing.” 

Dad was fascinated by Spengler’s Decline of the West. He 



set great store by the writings of Aldous Huxley and Will 
Durant, both of whom were visitors at his home. 

Some people have called Dad an intellectual, and others 
a dilettante. Some even claim he mimics intellectuality with 
such superb skill that it is only after you leave him that 
you realize it was all just a brilliant fa 9 ade. But whatever 
my father’s actual accomplishments in the field of learning, 
I have always appraised him as an earnest thirster after 
knowledge with a jealous determination to make up for all 
the advantages he missed when he was young. 

Low marks on our report cards always distressed Dad. 
Once when I flunked in math he tried to jack me up by 
bringing in Dr. Einstein. “He’s one of the few men on the 
face of this earth who knows the theory of relativity,” Dad, 
who was never much good at figures himself, told me. “And 
I know him. He comes right up here to this house to play 
the violin with me.” 

I met Dr. Einstein only once. 1 remember him as a small 
man of mild appearance with a great shock of unruly gray 
hair. Yet I was much in awe of him, for he understood the 
intricacies of mathematics, a mystery which neither my father 
nor I could master. 

In the field of music lYiy father and I were on more certain 
ground. By this time I had discovered that the teachers at 
Black-Foxe were not such ogres after all. I had become 
especially fond of the one who had seemed the most for- 
midable of them all, the physical education instructor, Mr. 
Douglas (Oleg) Mourat, who played the part of a father 
substitute to all the boys at school. He met with us in small 
groups to instruct us bluntly on the facts of life. He repri- 
manded us, paddled us when necessary, told us entertaining 
stories about his flight from Russia, showed an interest in 
our social affairs and encouraged us to develop our talents. 
He endeared himself to me by teaching me how to become an 



expert horseman, Cossack style. It was he who discovered 
my aptitude for music and suggested that I take lessons. 

I started studying piano under the famous Russian pianist, 
the late Raissa Kaufman. She was also the teacher of a beau- 
tiful young girl named Dolly Lochr who, as Diana Lynn, was 
later to make a place for herself in Hollywood. I used to see 
Dolly sometimes when 1 went for my lessons. I was quite 
attracted to her but I never found the courage to ask her for 
a date. 

My father was proud of my new accomplishment at the 
piano. “Sit down, play something for me,” he would beg, 
and when I did he would stand by my shoulder with his 
hands behind his back listening attentively. “Oh, if you would 
only practice, Charles, you would be a great concert pianist,” 
he would say longingly. 

It was only later that I learned from an old newspaper 
clipping that even when I was a baby my father had pro- 
claimed me a musical prodigy who would one day make my 
mark in the world. 

All my life I had been hunting for a way to make my 
father proud of me, and suddenly I had found it. Music was 
the magic “Open sesame.” But after si.x months of practice 
I discovered I could not keep up both it and my studies. My 
school curriculum was tough and 1 was a slow student. 1 
couldn’t find the extra time to put in the amount of prac- 
tice I needed to be expert at the piano. And though my 
fingers were nimble enough and I could play a little by car, 
I was slow at reading music. So my lessons were dropped 
altogether, which was a source of great disappointment to my 
father, though he never tried to coerce me into resuming 

I compensated for my inability to keep up the lessons by 
taking all the music-appreciation courses I could cram into 
my curriculum throughout my years in high school. I studied 
the lives of composers, their styles and habits, everything 



about them I could lay my hands on. I learned to recognize 
a composer by the phraseology of a composition even though 
I didn’t know the piece in question. And in this manner at 
least I was still able to hold my father’s admiration. 

“Oh, my son Charles, here, knows all about the classics,” 
he would sometimes boast to his friends. “All the composers. 
Play something, Charles.” 

I was always afraid that Dad, who spoke with the air of 
one offering an entertainer with an expansive repertoire, 
would ask me to play one of my three pieces in front of the 
wrong person. Artur Rubinstein and Igor Stravinsky were 
visitors at the house. Rachmaninoff came once, but 1 missed 
seeing the latter because he visited my father on a vv'eek end 
when I wasn’t there. Dad told me about it the next time I 
came up and I was almost inconsolable. Imagine it! Rach- 
maninoff at my father’s house! Rachmaninoff, who was bril- 
liant not just in one bur in three fields, composer, pianist and 
conductor, and who had studied under Tschaikovsky, my 
first guide into the beautiful world of classical music! 

1 plied my father with questions about Rachmaninoff. 
What was he like.^ What had they talked about^ How had 
he looked? 

My father was amu.sed by all my questions. He described 
Rachmaninoff for me — a tired old man with piercing eyes 
who spoke such broken English he had had to converse with 
Dad through an interpreter. Then suddenly, to make things 
})Iainer, Dad began to pantomime Rachmaninoff — the slow, 
shuffling gait across the floor, the sudden change to anima- 
tion when he sat down and became immersed in subjects 
dear to him. 

Later I went with Nana to hear Rachmaninoff playing at 
the Philharmonic auditorium. When I saw his tired old shuffle 
across the stage, his sudden metamorphosis to brilliance and 
youth as he took his place at the piano, I thought of my 
father. So well had Dad pantomimed the great artist that I 



saw not only Rachmaninoff that night, but my father in him. 

Another visitor to our home was Vladimir Horowitz. 
When I was around sixteen I met Horowitz with his wife, 
Wanda, Toscanini’s daughter, and their little girl Sonia, who 
was about eight at the time. Horowitz got her to play the 
piano for us. She played like the wind, but Horowitz shook 
his head. 

“I must apologize for my daughter,” he said in his thick 
Russian accent. “She hasn’t practiced much lately. Practice, 
young lady!” Not practiced! My God, she was playing like 
a genius! I was perspiring for fear Dad would bring me up, 
me and my three pieces, and I would have to compete with 

Dad could never have enough of Horowitz’s playing. 

“It’s like a whole orchestra in the room,” he would say 
admiringly. “He lifts the roof off.” 

Dad loved all his music loud. When he turned on the radio 
you could hear it blasting through the whole house; but he 
would sit there almost on top of it, entranced. He began to 
listen to his combination phonograph-radio more when I 
started taking an interest in music. The music was a bond that 
seemed to draw us close together. Now and then we would 
exchange comments about it. My father was especially en- 
thralled by the Good Friday Spell from the third act of 
Wagner’s Parsifal. I believe it was his favorite of all musical 

“Just listen to this, just listen to it,” he would say, shaking 
his head, enthralled. “How could such a bastard write this 
beautiful music? Why, it’s not mortal, it’s heavenly, and he 
was such a son of a bitch in his personal life! Look what he 
did to Franz Liszt’s daughter, and how he skipped town 
owing debts.” 

Sometimes, with the music swelling like golden thunder 
around him. Dad wouldn’t be able to stay seated any longer. 
He’d jump to his feet, walking around, shaking his head. 



praising Wagner for what he had composed, and in the next 
breatli excoriating him for his private life. I found it a bitter 
irony when, after the Joan Barry scandal and the accusations 
of being a Communist which were hurled against my father, 
I began to hear the the public condemning him in much the 
same way he had spoken of Wagner in earlier days. 


That December of 1938, Dad finished the script of The 
Great Dictator. All the characters were clearly defined in it 
now. The female lead, that of the winsome Jewish girl, had 
been written around Paulette. Dad was to play both Hitler 
and the little Jewish barber. But he didn’t completely discard 
his Little Tramp. In his baggy pants and oversize shoes he 
shuffles out of the picture as the barber at the end. Dad told 
me he kept the Little Tramp in as a talisman, because through- 
out his life he had brought him luck, wealth and fame. Dad 
had had a lot of laughs out of him, too. Dad and millions of 
people the world around. 

They went to his pictures. They flocked to sec him 
when he traveled. They held countless Charlie Chaplin 



contests. Dad told me about one of these that had taken place 
before I was born. It was at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in 
Hollywood, and there were thirty or forty people on the 
stage doing their best to imitate Dad. Dad was one of them. 
He’d gone up incognito to see how he would fare. He 
came in third. Dad always thought this one of the funniest 
jokes imaginable — whether on him or the judges or both, I 
don’t know. 

It is understandable why my father felt the need of keep- 
ing the cheerful Little Tramp as a good-luck symbol in The 
Great Dictator. He knew as well as anyone that he was 
raking a risk in making the picture at that time. Neville 
Chambcilain, with his famous umbrella, had visited Hitler 
at Munich. 7'he Sudetenland had then been annexed and 
Hitler’s greedy eyes were at the time fixed on Czechoslo- 
vakia. I lis intentions were obvious, but eqtially obvious was 
the fact that no Western power — not Lngland, not France, 
certainly not the United States so mucli farther away — cared 
to interfere. 

Dad was planning to do what others were afraid of doing 
— hold the little monster of I'urope up to public ridicule. He 
was far ahead of his da\’ in this, as he had been w'hen he 
made Modern I' ivies, which was an outcry against the 
standardization of man. I he only reason events caught up 
with him in the case of The Great Dictator wais that Dad 
progressed slowly, while his counterpart in F.urope, en- 
couraged by appeasement, was moving with unbelievable 

Because The Great Dictator was to be a talkie, Dad’s first 
talkie, he brought in writers to help him with the scrcen- 
plav. I can renicmber those storv conferences, many of which 
he held at home. The writers Dad hired were professionals 
who knew their business, but it was still a one-man show 
where he was concerned. 1 le would listen to an opinion, but 
if he didn’t agree with it, it wouldn’t be used. If anyone put 
up an argument — and I heard more than one heated dis- 



cussion — Dad was likely to flare up. As production time 
approached, the flare-ups with which I had been familiar 
during the Modern Times era were again the usual thing. 

Along with his work on the screenplay, my father began 
to study his subject. He got together all the newsreels of 
Hitler he could lay his hands on and looked at them by the 
hour, either in his home theater or in a projection room at 
his studio. There were scenes of Hitler talking to children, 
cuddling babies, visiting the sick in the hospitals, displaying 
his forensic art at all possible opportunities. Dad studied the 
dictator’s every pose, picked up his mannerisms and was en- 
thralled by the overall picture. 

“That guy’s a great actor,” he used to say admiringly. 
“Why, he’s the greatest actor of us all.” 

All this study paid off for my father. His portrayal of 
Hitler was a perfect imitation, so perfect that Gennans 
watching the picture said you had to listen closely to 
realize he wasn’t speaking their language with a Hitler accent, 
but just gibberish. 

Dad began picking the rest of his cast, too. I Ic was particu- 
larly anxious to find just the right man to play Napaloni — 
Benito Mussolini in real life. Originally Dad had planned to 
call him Benzino Gassolini, but when his picttjte was ready 
for production the war clouds were blacker than ever and 
Mussolini was still neutral, so Dad decided nor to take any 
chance of offending the gaseous Duce. But fun he meant to 
have at his expense, and he fastened on Jack Oakie for the 
part. When Oakie showed up for the interview and learned 
what Dad wanted of him he clapped his hat back on his head 
and got to his feet. 

“Look,” he said, “I’m a Scotch-Irish boy. What you want 
to look for is an Italian actor.” 

“What’s funny about an Italian playing Mussolini?” Dad 
shot back. 

Oakie saw the point. He took off his hat again and sat 
down. He was signed for the role. 



Dad’s selection of extras for a picture was sometimes 
motivated by more than hard-headed determination to get 
the best available. There’s a sentimental, even tender side 
to his nature and this comes to the fore when actors are 
concerned. I found him never so touched as by the spectacle 
of somebody who had once been an idol and was now re- 
duced to poverty, perhaps because age had impaired his 
memory. I know Dad has hired such actors and paid them 
good salaries, too, for doing next to nothing. 

Of course Dad couldn’t allow sentiment to enter into 
his choice of the actors and actresses who were to have more 
important roles. They had to be chosen on merit alone. But 
even here Dad’s sentimental feeling for those in the acting 
profession was apparent. It was so painful to him to interview 
people and then have to turn them down that he sometimes 
spoke of how nice it would be to have a room with a secret 
window. From that window he could look out at the appli- 
cants without anyone’s knowing he was there, and select the 
ones he wanted. 

When Dad began his coaching of Paulette, he was even 
more painstaking than he had been for Modern Times, be- 
cause this was a talking picture and more would be expected 
of her. 

I don’t know' whether, once Paulette was actually back 
working with Dad, she ever regretted her urgency to do 
another picture w’ith him. But she was never much one for 
tranquillity. Site had to give up all thought of the Scarlett 
O’Hara role, bur finding herself wdth some free time on her 
hands after finishing Dramatic School, she w'ent over to Para- 
mount to do The Cat and the Canary with Bob Hope. Even 
the whirlwind production of 1 lope’s film didn’t occupy her 
whole time. 'Fherc was still the redecorating of the house to 
be taken care of. 

It had been more than two years since Paulette first brought 
up the subject of getting the house redecorated. She’d 



plagfred at it intermittently ever since, but without too much 
enthusiasm, because she had been primarily occupied with 
getting her career off the ground. But now that cvcrvrhin<r 
seemed to be moving forward sarisfactorilv for her, she 
attacked the problem of the house with a vengeance. She 
enlisced the help of a potent a/lv in the person of the new 
Mrs. Fairbank.s, with whom she had struck up a close friend- 

Sylvia Fairbanks was an ardent decorator herself. She had 
just redone the Fairbanks’ Santa Monica home, and her eyes 
fairly glittered when she looked round Dad’s place. Together 
she and Paulette worked on Dad. ife fought every step of the 
way, as he had been fighting for two years, but now there 
were tu'o of them and they were persistent, (iraduallv the 
house began to be transfonned, though under the most 
violent protest. 

Dad squawked about expenditures and foolish changes 
like an outraged bird being dispossessed from its nest. Rut all 
the same Paulette began throwing our his treasured old 
pieces and substituting more modern furniture. New wall- 
paper, new curtains, new carpets; everything began to 
emerge like a butterfly out of its drab chrysalis. But there 
was one hatching" that didn’t take place. I’m sure neither of 
the two women knew, as they refurbished and modernized 
the rooms, what lay under the black paint that covered the 
elegant light fixtures along the w'all in the lower hallway. 
It took the present owners of the house to scrape ofl that 
paint and discover that the fixtures were of solid gold. 

Though Dad continued to complain bitterly about every 
change, after it had been made he was usually pleased with the 
results. He was so proud of the twenty-five-thousand-dollar 
crystal chandelier which Paulette finally got him to purchase 
for the front hall that he later had it shipped to him in Vevey. 
He even began to absorb some of Paulette’s enthusiasm. I 
think the glassed-in sunroom which he added to the living 
room, and which became his favorite work place, was as 



much his idea as hers. I know he was the one responsible for 
the parqueted floors in the hall and the sunroom. 

In her redecorating fever, Paulette proceeded upstairs and 
turned her own room into an exquisitely feminine boudoir. 
Then Dad found himself making his last stand on a shrunken 
battle line, his own bedroom. Paulette tried desperately but 
she was never able to storm that citadel. Dad guarded his room 
as jealously as a lion its lair, roaring furiously at the very 
thought of encroachment. It was his, he liked it as it was, 
even to that faded worn-out rug on the floor, and he meant 
to keep everything in its place. In the beautifully appointed, Dad’s bedroom now stood out like a sore thumb and 
attracted the wonder of any guest who saw it. 

And what about Syd and me during this tense, exciting 
period that preceded the big push, the commitment of The 
Great Dictator to hlm^ So rapidly do boys grow that we had 
left behind the age of irrational escapades. I was approaching 
my fourteenth birthday, Syd his thirteenth, and our sins now 
were more those bred of laziness. It was fortunate for us 
that at this time a new friend came into our lives, or rather 
an old acquaintanceship was renewed and developed into a 
lasting friendship. 

I’m speaking of Frank Antune/, Jr., son of the former head 
of transportation at Dad’s studio. It was during the filming of 
Modern Thnes tliat we had hrst met Frank, w hom wc alTec- 
tionatcly called Panclio, because he was Mexican. W e used 
to share our bicycles with him at the studio on Saturdays. 
Now, at the age of seventeen, he came to do odd jobs around 
the house. He took care of the tennis court and occasionally 
lielpcd Frank with the inside work. Sometimes he drove Dad 
to the studio when he was working, and often he brought 
us home from Black-Foxc. Syd and 1 looked on him as a big 
brother. Wc had riotous pillow fights with him up in our 
room and shamelessly borrow ed ice-cream or theater money 
from him w'hcn wc wxrc flat. Often all three of us w^ent to 



the movies together, sitting in a row, eating popcorn, our 
eyes glued to the screen. 

Recently I saw Frank Antunez, who is now employed in 
the sound department at MGM, and we began reminiscing 
about old times. 

“You and Sydney were different from the children of so 
many other celebrities. You never had this air about you of 
being the sons of someone who was somebody,” Frank said, 
paying Syd and me what I consider a great compliment. “You 
were always just like ordinary kids. But then your father 
was that way too. There never was any condescension toward 
me because I worked for him. Even years later he remem- 
bered me, and that’s more than a lot of them do when you’ve 
quit them.” 

Then Frank Antunez recalled how, in his job as a delivery 
and pickup man for Pathe Laboratories after he had left my 
father, he bounced whistling one evening through the front 
door of the R.C.A. Recording Studios in Hollywood for their 
daily quota of film. He found himself confronted by a group 
of solemn-faced people. “Be quiet,” they ordered Frank 
pontifically. “Mr. Chaplin is coming downstairs!” 

Frank was so amazed at all this formality that he choked 
on his whistling.' And while he was trying to recover him- 
self, Dad came running down the stairs in that quick way of 
his. His eye took in Frank and he hurried over, grabbed his 
hand and shook it. 

“How are you, Frank, and how’s business going?” he asked 
warmly, and he stopped to chat a moment before hurrying 
on, ignoring the group of gaping people whp had been stand- 
ing at stiff attention waiting for him. 

“What does he care for all that solemn fuss?” Frank re- 
minded me. “He was always just people, at least he was with 
my father and me. He never treated me like a servant. I was 
more or less one of your family.” 

As a member of the family it was Pancho’s chore to see 
that Syd and I were ready on time when Dad and Paulette 
had a dinner engagement in which we were included. This 



was much more of a task than at first appears, for Syd and I, 
like most boys that age, hated to get dressed to go to an 
affair that didn’t appeal to us. Pancho often had to tie our 
ties, and there were many times when he had literally to stuff 
Syd into his blue suit because Syd couldn’t be bothered. 
Pancho would cajole, pressure and joke until at last, just in 
the nick of time, there we would both be looking like pieces 
of sartorial art, with even our hair nearly combed. 

If only the affairs to which Dad and Paulette took us had 
been lively parties glittering with movie stars! But at our 
awkward age we were seldom included in that kind of gather- 
ing and we were beginning to feel left out about it. We were 
entering a new phase now. We were well on the way to be- 
coming real movie-star fans. 

My hero was Jimmy Cagney, and I finally met him one 
night during a party at the house. Syd was at school doing 
the *'gun beat,” and I might as well have been because I was 
sick with a fever and had to stay in bed. They tried to make 
it up to me by putting me in Paulette’s roon^ where 1 could 
at least hear the clatter below. But that wasn’t much comfort 
and presently I turned my back to the door. All of a sudden 
there was Paulette. 

“I want you to meet someone,” she said. 

I turned around and a man walked through the door. He 
looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him because he seemed 
so short. Then 1 recogni/cd the face: it was James Cagney, 
Public Enemy Number One, My dream had come true, but 
all I could feel at the moment was shock at his stature. 

I was deeply in love with Hedy Lamarr, whom I knew 
only by her pictures. And I had a real crush on Paulette. She 
was no longer just a pretty stepmother who always sided with 
Syd and me against our father’s wrath but also spoke reprov- 
ingly to us about keeping up our lessons. She was also a glam- 
orous woman who belonged to us. It was nice to have a step- 
mother so young and beautiful she could almost be our girl 
friend too. 

Love . . . romance! Syd and I were entering the age of 



youthful chivalry. At a private party I stole my first kiss from 
a girl named Peggy. Someone turned the lights out and all the 
girls hid. Peggy crouched under the piano. I stuck my head 
under with dashing enthusiasm. But Peggy wasn’t hiding from 
me after all. Her face was right there and my teeth crashed 
against hers with a force that almost floored us both. 

“You didn’t need to knock all my teeth out, Charlie,” 
Peggy said ruefully. “I would have kissed you anyway.” 

At home the Japanese servants had shrewdly observed the 
change in Syd and me and discarded their bloodtliirsty stories 
of executions and ghosts. 

“You like geisha girls?” Frank would ask instead. 

“Well, I guess they’re very nice,” we would answer, though 
we’d never met any and didn’t know what they u erc. 

This was enough to launch Frank, lie would tell us wildly 
romantic stories with copious interpolations and entluisiastic 
additions from George, Kay and any of the relatives who 
happened to be present. It seemed that every one of them was 
an authority on geisha girls. 

Dad wasn’t far beliind the servants. It was time, he could 
see, to have a stab at sex education with his sons. 1 remember 
the day when he first broached the subject to us. Fhe sun \\ as 
setting and we were walking around Dad’s estate, all three of 
us, looking at nature in general. Dad always seems to wax 
most expansive at sunset. It is as though a feeling of tender- 
ness takes possession of him, encouraging him to candor. Ami 
so he chose that hour to talk of sex to Syd and me. First he 
spoke poetically of the flowers and how they grt)w. From the 
flowers he passed on to the birds, and then the animal world. 
And finally he was describing how it was with human beings, 
how we one and all without exception had come into the 
world. He told us that in the female bodv the male cell meets 
the female and from this mysterious union a new life is 

“There’s some Force that causes it,” he said. “Who can tell 
what that Force is? But it’s beautiful and mysterious.” 

2 lO 


Dad never did get around to telling us just how the male 
cell gets an opportunity to meet the female cell. lie seemed 
relieved when we assured him we had learned all those de- 
rails from Mr. Mourat. Dad much preferred to stick to his 
poetic descriptions of the beginning of life. And Syd and I 
liked to hear him talk that way. Somehow it wrought a veil 
of beauty, of mystery and poetry, around a subject which 
.Mr. Mourat had dealt with more realistically than esthetically. 

It was Paulette, though, who really made me aware that I 
was leaving childhood behind. (.)ne night in t!ie mountains 1 
went to climb into her bed with her as always. But she just 
threw back the top cover for me. 

“What’s that for?” I asked her. 

“You’re an older boy now, Charlie,” she said. 

“What do you mean?” I insisted. 

Paulette laughed. “You! Really, Charlie! Youdl he just like 
your father when you grow up. I can sec it now.” 

So I had to be content with sitting on the bed w ith the 
top blanket around me. And the next day Paulette told Dad 
and they joked about it. 

But it took something more than good-natured fun to help 
me grow in a different w^ay — mentally, so that I found a 
deeper understanding about things, about myself. It was in 
March that I had an attack of appendicitis at school. Feeling 
much like a hero, I was taken away to the hospital in an am- 

Once there, it wasn’t so much fun. I was on the operating 
table for tw'o Imurs, and then tliere were chest complications 
because the umbilical cord that had been wTapped around my 
neck at birth had left me with a weak respiratory tract. I de- 
veloped pneumonia and was in critical condition for several 

Mother and Nana and Dad all were notified when I went 
to the hospital and came down at once. They sat together in 
the waiting room cheering each other up until the doctors 
pronounced the operation a success. Then Dad took Mother 

2 I I 


and Nana to the Brown Derby for breakfast. When I came 
out of the anesthetic they were all back standing around my 
bed. I heard them talking before I opened my eyes. 

“You know almost everyone has an appendectomy, Lita,” 
Dad was saying. “So you mustn’t worry.” 

“I know, Charlie,” it was Mother’s voice. 

I opened my eyes and saw them looking down at me, smil- 
ing, asking how I was doing. Despite his attempt at jocularity. 
Dad couldn’t keep his anxiety from showing. He never could 
too succc.ssfully. 

And suddenly it came to me that I wasn’t on this earth by 
sufferance after all. Whatever had happened then, whatever 
quarrels there had been, it was all over. They cared about me 
and there was warmth and friendliness between them. In that 
moment I understood exactly what Dad meant when he had 
said to me in the living room that day, “It’s just one of the 
things in life.” That’s all it was, not any more or less im- 
portant than that. It was life and I was part of it, and I was 
growing up. 


It was during that summer of my fourteenth year that I 
finally met my dream girl, Hedy Lamarr, in a carefully 
planned romantic comedy engineered by my father. 

It took place at Catalina Island. Our small v^icht was an- 
chored next to Gene Markey’s big one. I knew that Hedy, 
who was married to Markey at the time, was aboard the 
yacht, and I hung on the rail of our ship hoping to get a 
glimpse of her. Dad watched me awhile with amusement. 

“Well, son,” he said at last, “we’re going over there and 
you’re going to meet Hedy Lamarr.” 

I followed him, speechless, to the little outboard motor, 
where we were joined by Syd and Paulette. Captain Ander- 
son took us all across. \Vc boarded the Markey yacht, and 



there was Gene Markey with a captain’s cap at a rakish tilt 
on his head. There were other guests, too; I think the late 
Robert Benchley was one of them. But the only one I can 
vividly remember is Hedy, in her white blouse and dark 
slacks, with her long black hair and scarlet lips. She was smil- 
ing at me. But I couldn’t look directly at her. 

I was at this impasse when Gene Markey suddenly an- 
nounced there was going to be a chinning contest on the rail 
of the ship. (Dad had put him up to it, of course, because he 
knew I prided myself on chinups.) The person who won 
would get a prize. 

“If it’s money, Charles and Sydney,” Dad warned us, “re- 
member, I told you boys never to accept money from people 
outside your family.” 

I knew Dad was serious on this point. lie had made it often 
throughout our childhood — no money gifts from anyone. But 
I wasn’t thinking of money just then. 1 had a chance to sho\\- 
off to Hedy Lamarr. I went over to the rail with Syd and the 
other males and we all began doing chinups. 1 outstripped 
everyone. It’s a wonder I didn’t strain myself. I did twenty- 
five before I had to give up. I sat down on a bench, panting, 
to rest. 

Gene Markey came up to me. 

“You won,” he said. “Here’s the prize.” 

Of course it was money, a twcnty-dollar bill. 

I took it and sat looking at it. It was a fabulous amount. But 
I knew Dad’s eyes were on me, waiting, and Dad was infle.\- 
ible with his rules. I handed it up to him. Suddenly I ledy 
Lamarr sat down beside me and put her arms around me. 

“Oh, please. Char-lie,” Hedy said in her charming Austrian 
accent, putting on the siren act, “don’t be so tough on your 
son. He’s such a niiiice boy.” 

I must have melted down to nothing. I hid my face and 
smiled and blushed. And everyone around, even Syd, was 
laughing. But I didn’t care. 

“Please, Char-lie,” Hedy went on, “please let your son 



have the mon-ey.” And suddenly her lips were on my check. 
Ilcdy Lamarr was kissing me! 

1 hen Dad handed me hack the money as though he had 
been moved by Hedy’s pleas. 

“Now don’t spend it all in one place,” he said. 

I don’t remember what happened after that. I just remem- 
ber that I was still unable to look at Hedy when the time 
came to tell her good-by. But 1 never forgot that kiss. 

That summer my father didn’t confine his coaching to 
Paulette. He also did some work with his second male lead, 
jack Oakie. 

“Your father taught me so much I couldn’t believe I had 
known so little before,” Jack told me. “W hy, 1 felt like a 
rank amateur before he was through.” 

The first day of tests Dad wanted ro see Jack’s bag of 
tricks. Jack obligingly walked in front of the camera to give 
him a sample of his take-urns — a special look straight into the 
camera, to attract the audience's attention. Jack had been 
doing takc-ums so long he'd begun to think he originated 
them. He finished the take-um but the camera kept on grind- 

“Go on,” Dad told him. 

“Thar’s it,” jack said. 

“Oh, no, there should be more to it,” Dad insisted. 

He encouraged Jack to milk the takc-um dry with every 
kind of embellishment he could think of. Jack discovered 
then that it was Dad who was the father of the film take-um, 
as he was of so much film comedy business. One by one Jack 
showed off all his tricks and Dad taught him how to improve 
on each, so that he could wring out five laughs where before 
he had gotten only one. Dad was going full swing in his favor- 
ite role of teacher, and in Jack he had a very apt pupil. 

Meanwhile, all through the summer, while Dad was wind- 
ing up the many details that had to be taken care of before 
actual production could begin, the Nazi shadow was grow- 




ing longer and longer. Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement 
had borne its bitter fruit. Desjiite Hitler’s assurance that the 
Sudeten represented the extent of his territorial ambition, he 
had moved into Czechoslovakia by the middle of March and 
had next fixed his hungry eyes on Poland. Thoroughly 
alarmed now, the British Prime Minister had announced on 
March 31, 1939, that if Poland was attacked. Great Britain 
would come to her aid. Ever since that announcement the 
world had lain in a state of uneasy peace. It was broken 
September 1 when Hitler’s troops goose-stepped into Poland, 
bringing a war that was to engulf almost every civilized 
nation and eventually carry Syd and me, along with so many 
other young men, half across the world. 

On September 3, France and England formally announced 
they were at war with Germany. And a few days later my 
father began production on The Great Dictator. 

It was five years almost to the month since he started film- 
ing Modern Times. All through that period he had been 
making periodic statements about getting out a picture a year 
— “quickies” he called them. But by the time he came around 
to doing The Great Dictator he was resigned to the limita- 
tion of time imposed on him by his genius and was even 
sho('ked when he read about the “quickie” productions of 
other studios. A Daily Variety headline proclaiming that 
Darryl Zanuck was going to make forty-eight pictures in the 
current year left him incredulous. 

“This is what’s wrong with the business,” my father ex- 
claimed. “How can you make forty-eight good pictures a 

Dad’s long absence from actual production, together with 
the fact that he hadn’t yet gone into talkies, put him in the 
position of a Rip Van Winkle returning to the land of the 
living after twenty years. By this time unions were firmly in- 
trenched in the motion-picture industry, and if Dad wanted 
to use his crew for longer than an eight-hour period — and 
when Dad was on the job it was often customary for his 



workers to put in a twenty-hour day — he had to pay them 
overtime. Dad has earned a reputation in certain quarters for 
being stingy, but none of his former employees will go along 
with that. All over town producers were hiring replacement 
crews to cut out overtime expenses, but when one of Dad’s 
budget experts approached him with a suggestion that he do 
likewise. Dad refused. 

“No,” he said sternly. “Never cheat on labor. Let them 
earn the extra money.” 

Perhaps nir>sr pcrplc.xing ir.v father, when he started 
production on The Circat were the new stand-by 

employees that, according ro onion regulations, he now had 
to add to his staff. What possible use could Dad have for an 
augmented staff, that one-man dynuno was used to 

doing everything for lumsclf? He could never get over all 
his extra help. 

“What arc these crowds doing here, anyway^” he v/ould 
ask, looking about him every murmng. 

“But what’s a script girP” he would inquire of the script 
girl when she repoited to him. Dad had always been his own 
script girl, and he Kept right on taking care of it even with 
the girl on hand. 

Wdicn a makeup man appeared in his dressing room, Dad 
stared at him. Makeup man for Dad, who had always done his 
own makeup and would go on doing it because he enjoyed 
it? He paid the makeup man to stand around and watch him 
and he got a lot of fun out of putting on a show for him as 
well. When Syd and I were at the studio with Dad we saw 
the show ourselves. 

Dad took out a thick strand of fake hair about a yard long. 
He fastidiously dabbed some liquid adhesive on his upper lip 
and cemented the center of the strand of hair to the adhesive 
so that the long ends hung down one on either side of his face. 
Next Dad picked up a tremendous pair of shears and started 
snipping at the hair — first one side, then the other, in a deli- 



cate, precise rhythm. While he snipped he talked to Syd 
and me. 

“What on earth is a makeup man, boys?” he asked with a 
grimace and a quick snip on one side. 

“What do you hire them for, anyway?” Another snip on 
the other side, another grimace. 

“Who needs a makeup man?” Snip, snip — with each snip a 
grimace and a question. The big scissors flashed in a gay dance 
closer and closer to Dad’s face, until with a last elegant snip 
he trimmed that tiny mustache expertly right across his 
upper lip. 

Dad didn’t have much use for a film cutter, either. He did 
most of the cutting hiinself, and the cutter was paid primarily, 
I guess, to see how a past master did things. One cutter told 
me that when Dad was impatient he wouldn’t bother to reach 
for the scissors to cut the film. There he would be with it 
wrapped around his neck in garlands, looking at it against 
the light. W’hen he came across the offending section he would 
just rip it out with his fingers, leaving the cutter to trim the 
edges and fasten the ends together again. 

“Whoever heard of tearing film that way?” the cutter said 
to me. “But your father did.” 

The new sound-effects technician was someone Dad really 
needed, but he didn’t like to admit it, because he didn’t like 
to admit that anyone could do any phase of picture making 
better than he. One time he spent two whole days trying to 
get the sound of an airplane motor. He would sit in front of an 
electric fan holding a piece of celluloid against the whirring 
blades and varying the pressure, his head cocked to one side, 
listening. He would exchange one piece of celluloid for an- 
other of a different thickness and one fan for another of a 
different size while the sound expert stood by humoring him. 
Finally, when Dad gave up on his experimenting, the sound 
technician got the effect by simply going down to the airport 
and recording the sound of a real motor. 

But Dad was never too concerned about saving time. Pic- 



tiirc making wasn’t a business with him. It was creative play 
and he loved it. 1 remember the day Uncle Sydney came to 
him excited over an offer he’d just received from someone 
who wanted to buy the studio for two million dollars. It 
looked like a wonderful deal to my uncle, because Dad didn’t 
really need a studio except once about every five years, when 
he could easily rent one. His own studio was just an expensive 
luxury. Dad once told me it cost him around a thousand dol- 
lars a day to maintain it when it was idle. 

At the time Uncle Sydney panted out his proposal Dad 
was making a test for some kind of sound effect. Uncle Syd- 
ney waited eagerly for Dad’s reaction, but Dad didn’t even 
lift his head from what he was doing. 

“Oh, tell them to leave us akjnc,” he said. “Just where 
would 1 play if I didn’t have the studio?” 

But though Dad’s picture making was play, it certainly 
wasn’t a relaxing kind of play. It was more in the nature of a 
nerve-racking adventure. 

Paulette, especially, felt die pressures. She was Dad’s wife, 
but that didn’t make any difference on the set. I'hcrc she was 
Hannah, the female lead. She had to take more drilling than 
almost anyone else in the cast — drilling that at times pushed 
her close to the breaking point. Dad was proud of her finished 
work. All her best cjualities, the independence and courage of 
her gay pixie spirit, came our in the picture. Bur rhe grueling 
drive that displayed Paulette’s personalir\" so brilliantly also 
helped to shatter the marriage that had so precariously survived 
the calm between productions. 

Syd and I, once again visiting the sets with our father, no- 
ticed the change in atmosphere from the old days when 
Modern Vinies was produced. 1 kings had become much 
quieter. By quieter 1 don't mean calmer. The old silent-film 
camera, with its soft, friendly whine punctuated by faint stac- 
cato clickings, was gone. Dad felt awkward at first, acting in 
front of a camera that made no noise at all. It took him a while 
to realize that he had used the noise of the silent-film camera 



to establish his own rhythm. He now had to depend on his own 
inner timing. 

He missed the l^aghter of the stagehands around the set, 
too. Now everything had to be acted out in a silence so dead 
you could hear a pin drop, while a buzzing fly sounded like a 
miniature dive bomber, especially in my father’s ears. 

One day when Syd and I were on the set a fly had the 
temerity to penetrate that sacred precinct in the middle of a 
particularly difficult scene. They’d been shooting it a number 
of times without success because one of the players wasn’t 
doing his part to please Dad. Finally Dad got a shot that he 
thought might pass. But because he’s a perfectionist he called 
for one more take. Just as the camera was ready to roll and 
everyone was poised in tense expectancy, this fly came flitting 
across the stage with a gay little buzz. Dad blew his top just 
as though that tiny fly were a P-38. 

“Goddam it!” he yelled. “Get that bloody vulture out of 

Five men each reached for a fly swatter. Dad must have 
kept dozens of the things hanging around the place. Fhey all 
started chasing the fly, leaping, pirouetting, racing around and 
flailing their fly swatters energetically. 

In the midst of the bedlam Dad paced back and forth, back 
and forth, hands behind his back, head bent, ignoring the 
pandemonium around him. 

“The scene’ll have to go better. It’ll just have to go better,” 
he kept muttering to himself. 

After what seemed about twent\' minutes of pursuit, the 
men got the fly. Shooting was resumed and the scene went 
over beautifully. Then all at once someone began to laugh. 
There was another and another laugh. Soon the whole set 
was in an uproar. Dad laughing along with the rest of us. No 
matter how angry he gets or what an embarrassing situation 
he may find himself in, when things die down he’s quick to 
see the humor in it. 

Another time it was Syd, not a fly, who was the culprit. 



This time they were shooting the scene of the firing of the 
Big Bertha. They’d been through rehearsals several times and 
it was a lot of fun. Dad would get ready to pull the lanyard 
on the gun. But first he would go through some kind of quick 
jig that was hilarious. T hen would come the boom of the gun 
and Dad would do a few startled somersaults and other busi- 
ness, all of which was side-splitting. Everyone was holding 
his mouth to keep from laughing, and doing a good job of it. 

Then they were ready for the take. The camera rolled. 
Dad did his funny business and in the midst of the silence a 
sudden peal of laughter rang out. It was Syd. In a twinkling, 
from being the funniest man alive Dad became the most 

“Who laughed?” he shouted. 

No one answered. 1 guess Syd was hoping Dad’s anger 
would cool down, as we had discovered it did. But Dad kept 
insisting, “Now who laughed? Who laughed'” 

“I did,” Syd said at last, getting his courage up. 

Dad rushed up to him in that characteristic running way 
he has. 

“Do you know your laugh jusi cost me fifteen thousand dol- 
lars?” he exclaimed. 

He had his hand raised. I thought he was going to strike 
Svd and 1 was terrified, because I could see he had been so 
completelv concentrated on the scene he had forgotten for 
a moment s\ ho he was or \\ here he w as. 

“You . . .” he said. Then he let his hand fall. “You laughed 
at me!” 

Suddenly he was laughing himself. Tic turned to the crew. 

“I'ven my own son thinks Em funnv,” he said, as though 
he had just received an extraordinary accolade. 

I Ic turned back to Syd. “Well, it was fifteen thousand dol- 
lars’ worth of laugh,” he .said, “but if you appreciated it that 
much, it’s all right.” He paused, looked at Sy'd meaningly and 
added, “Just don’t let it happen again, son.” 

Believe me, Syd didn’t. 

22 1 


Dad was more tense at the beginning of production on The 
Great Dictator than he had been with Modern Times, His 
worry with Modern Times had been over doing a silent in a 
world of sound. With The Great Dictator his anxiety came 
from a more positive source. Fie had to master new tech- 
niques as a beginner in a field where other producers were by 
this time old hands. It wasn’t long, however, before Dad began 
to realize that talkies weren’t the bugaboo he’d been picturing 
them. And presently he was enjoying the new medium so 
much that he even started speaking regretfully of not having 
made Moder?i Times with sound. 

“I don’t think some of my funniest scenes were understood 
by the children,” he would say. “Talking would have made 
them plain.” 

“Of course,” he would add, “even then the picture wasn’t 
too much of a failure.” That particular film has been making 
money in the millions for Dad ever since its first release. 

One of the pleasantest things about the new film was the 
aflfable relationship between Dad and Jack Oakie. Jack has a 
tough hide and was able to take r3ad’s drive in stride. Dad, on 
his part, has always had a great admiration for Jack. As one 
of <-he most exuberant comics in the business, he was a perfect 
counterpart of the effusive Mussolini. Even his shape re- 
sembled that of the pudgy Italian dictator. But Jack was on 
a diet at the time the picture was being shot, and this worried 
Dad. What would be funny about a slender Mussolini? My 
father tackled the problem with his characteristic thorough- 
ness. He used to bring George down to the studio to prepare 
lunch, and he instructed him to fix his choicest and most fat- 
tening dishes. Then he began to invite Jack to his dressing 
room as a luncheon guest. 

I remember being in on those sessions, which always ended 
so hilariously that Syd and I couldn’t keep straight faces. Dad 
never ate much lunch as a rule, but he would ply Jack with 
generous portions of food so tantalizing a gourmet would 
have been in rapture. 



“Charlie, I can’t cat it,” Jack would exclaim desperately. 
“I tell you I’m on a diet. A little fruit and some cottage cheese, 

For answer Dad would put a forkful of the food in his own 
mouth and sample it with an expression of ecstatic pleasure. 
Jack would stare at him with longing sheep eyes. 

“I know what you’re trying to do, Charlie,” he would 
moan. “But I’m not going to fall for it. I’m on a diet and I’m 
sticking to it.” 

“Oh, come on, Jack. Just this once,” Dad would beg, and 
he would take another mouthful and savor it. 

In the end Jack always broke down and arc everything in 
sight. He didn’t just retain w eight, he put on more. l)ad rook 
to calling him Muscles, and Muscles he remained throughout 
most of the picture. 

During the shooting of The Great Dictator^ Jack w^as mostly 
the pupil, my father the master. But I know^ there w^as one 
time at least that Jack w^as able to teach Dad something. I 
know of it because Jack is so proud he still likes to tell about 

My father’s directorial methods are mainly intuitive, like 
so much else about him. He know’s wdicn a scene is r^ght. But 
Jack noticed that sometimes he had trouble defining for others 
just what he wanted. One day he used up film by the yard 
on a dining scene with a blond w aitress who w as bringing a 
tray of spaghetti to a table w here Jack sat. The girl kept doing 
everything persistently wTong, and under Dad’s merciless 
drilling she w^as becoming so nenmus she w^as almost in tears. 
It was Jack, from his vantage point at the table, w'ho suddenly 
realized wdiat the trouble w^as. Dad, not the girl, w as at fault. 

“Charlie,” Jack said, “you’re directing the scene left-handed 
and the girl is right-handed.” 

Dad’s face brightened. He crossed to the other side of the 
set, and when the girl came in this time he saw^ at once w hat 
was wrong, and they got a perfect take. 

Though I don’t believe Jack played the instructor more 
than once — at least he hasn’t told me about it — he did prove 


not only an apt but an ambitious pupil. Now that he had 
Dad’s secrets, he went all out to steal at least one scene from 
the King of Comedy. He tried everything he’d learned, but 
it wasn’t quite good enough. My father still kept taking the 
scenes away from him. 

One day in the middle of one of Jack’s desperate efforts, 
Dad turned to his sweating pupil with a grin and divulged 
his final secret. “If you really want to steal a scene from me, 
you son of a bitch,” he said affably, “just look straight into 
the camera. That’ll do it every time.” 

Dad could afford to be free with his secrets. He, as well 
as everyone else, knew he was the master of living comics. I 
say living because Dad did admit serious competition from an- 
other quarter .He spoke about it often after he saw Walt 
Disney’s Snow White at the Carthay Circle Theater that year. 
All through the showing he analyzed Disney’s techniques, 
looking for things he could adapt to his own work. Dad was 
able to learn even from animated cartoons, and he had the 
greatest admiration for Walt Disney both as an artist and as 
a master technician. 

“Disney’s making it tough on us comics,” he used to say 
with a shake of his head. “The timing of his characters is al- 
ways superb because they don’t even have to stop to take a 

On December 12 of rhar ye..r a tragic event occurred which 
threw a shadow over the Christmas season. Douglas Fairbanks, 
Sr., who was only fifty-six at the time, died unexpectedly of 
a heart attack at his beach home. Me had been my father’s 
oldest and dearest friend in the acting profession. My father 
was a pallbearer at the funeral, and this must have cost him 
dearly in emotional strain, for he has always made a point of 
avoiding funerals if possible. 

‘‘They ought to be outlawed,” he once told me vehemently. 
“The grief they cause the family. 1 just don’t dare go.” 

My father’s floral contribution to the funeral was an um 
of white sweet peas, red roses and orchids. The message read, 
“In loving remembrance of my good friend Douglas. I shall 
always treasure his memory.” 



What memories! Dad and Doug Fairbanks were like a 
couple of schoolboys together, always ready for a hannless 
practical joke and a few laughs, and they could find their 
amusement in the simplest antics. In the days of silent movies, 
before people knew what their voices were like, they used to 
drive slowly around Beverly Hills until they came upon a 
group of tourists. They would stop and Dad would lean out. 

“I say,” he would exclaim in a high-pitched voice, “would 
you tell me where Sunset Boulevard and Benedict Canyon 

The people, nonplused at being accosted by the two famous 
stars, and never once stopping to wonder why they weren’t 
conversant with the streets of their own town, would stammer 
out directions. 

“Thank you very much,” Dad would reply in his quavering 

“Charlie, shall we go now?” Doug would put in, in a falsetto 
almost as high. “We have to get to that party tonight.” 

Then they would drive off slowly, their ears cocked. 

“I didn’t know Charlie Chaplin and Doug Fairbanks spoke 
with such high-pitched voices,” the disillusioned exclama- 
tions would rise behind them. 

Convulsed with laughter. Dad and Doug would feel their 
day had been crowned with success. 

Sometimes they’d plan a gag beforehand. Doug Fairbanks 
would come to a party wearing a trick shirt under his dinner 
Jacket. My father would pretend to get into an argument with 
him and at its height would shout, “If you don’t shut up I’ll 
rip your shirt off.” 

“Go ahead, try it!” Fairbanks would reply, eying Dad con- 

Dad would dart up and grab the front of Fairbanks’ shirt. 
Whhup, the whole front would come off, sleeves and all, leav- 
ing only the cuffs behind. Fairbanks would just sit staring at 
him while Dad would stare at the shirt. 

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” he’d finally say as politely as though 
what he’d done was just a little faux pas. “I had no idea!” 



Then, turning to the shocked guests he’d explain mildly, 
“It’s nothing — just a small argument.” 

There were the poker games, too, down at Fairbanks’ 
beach home. You have heard of the traditional poker face, 
but there was never one for long at those games. Dad couldn’t 
resist pantomiming a typical poker player over his cards. 
Then Doug would throw in his two bits’ worth of hamming, 
until what had staned out as a sober game of cards would be 
turned into a hilarious evening. Now those games were over 
forever, along with so much else Dad had enjoyed with Fair- 

It must have seemed to my father that with his friend’s 
passing the whole world of Hollywood as he had known it 
was breaking up. As indeed it was, for Fairbanks had been a 
symbol of the movie colony’s exuberant childhood. 

That Christmas Syd and I received two more dogs from 
Paulette. They w ere St. Bernard pups, which we called Sam- 
son and Delilah. Now, much to our father’s consternation, 
there were four dogs around the house. (Puddles had either 
wandered otf or been kidnaped.) The St. Bernards were the 
worst of them all, despite their being such gentle creatures. 
1 hey grew into monsters, prowling everj^where, tearing up 
the yard, bounding into the house whenever they could find 
a crack in a door that they could paw open. 

“You’d better take them out to your mother, she probably 
needs some watchdogs,” Dad suggested solicitously. 

So we took them to the ranch, though no one there seemed 
particularly grateful for Paulette’s gifts, either. 

Christmas was only a short respite in the Chaplin home 
that year. Dad was pounding down the home stretch now on 
The Great Dictator^ driving all before him like Shelley’s west 
wind. I remember seeing Paulette unhappy, even in tears, 
much of that time. It wasn’t just the strain of work that was 
affecting her. There was an element of hurt pride, too. 

Paulette was no longer the green newcomer she had been 



when she so gratefully accepted my father’s coaching in 
Modern Times. Now she was regarded in Hollywood as a 
promising young actress. And Dad’s grueling, sometimes im- 
patient coaching of her on the set in front of the other play- 
ers was on occasion very humiliating to her. Sometimes she 
came home from work looking so woebegone that Syd and I 
would ask Dad anxiously about her. 

“Your stepmother worked very hard today,” Dad would 
explain, “and I had to tell her a few things about acting, which 
isn’t easy.” Then Dad would try again to explain to Paulette 
what had been wrong with the scene that had caused the 
trouble in the first place. 

“Oh, don’t talk any more about it, Charlie,” Paulette would 
burst out. “You’re just a slave driver.” And she would lie down 
on the couch and start to cry. 

Dad would turn to us and ask us to leave and let Paulette 
rest. When we had gone he would make it up with her. She 
was always too bright a person to stay downcast for long, 
anyway, and afterwards she and Dad would be as affectionate 
as ever with each other. It still never occurred to Syd and me 
that these quarrels were anything more than temporary ex- 
plosions due to the tensions of the production, quarrels which 
would stop as soon as the picture was finished. 

Things did relax for Paulette and the rest of the cast when 
the shooting came to an end in the spring of 1940, but nor for 
Dad. Still the human dynamo, he turned his attention to com- 
posing the music for The Great Dictator. And because many 
of his sessions with the musicians were held at the house, I 
had the opportunity of watching first-hand a man who 
couldn’t read a note and knew nothing of the mechanics of 
the art, work at being a composer — and drive men mad as he 
had A 1 Newman in earlier years. 

The musicians were actually musical secretaries taking 
Dad’s dictation. The music was always his. He would hum or 
play his tune and the musicians would take it down and then 



play it back for him. Dad would listen carefully. He has a 
wonderful ear. 

“That part’s good,” he’d say. “But there’s something wrong 
here. Wait a minute.” 

He would concentrate and hum the phrase again, and the 
musicians would get back to their dictation. It might take a 
number of tries before Dad had the rune to his satisfaction. 

He and the musicians nor only worked long hours at home, 
but more long hours at the studio, where they used a Movieola 
so that a scene could be played, reversed and played again 
until the music to match it popped into Dad’s head. Once he 
had it in its entirety he would give the musicians a description 
of how he wanted it scored for each scene — the tempo, the 
rhythm, the style. Though he knew some of the various mu- 
sical forms and could correctly use a great deal of terminology 
such as pizzicato, rubato, allegro and the like, he preferred to 
describe what he wanted by referring to a composer’s name 
or an instrumental label by wav of illustration. 

“We should make this Wagnerian,” he would say, or, 
“This part should be more Chopin. Let’s make this light and 
airy, a lor of violins. I think we could use an oboe effect in 
this passage.” 

Sometimes when Dad described what he wanted the musi- 
cians would shake their heads, because Dad’s timing of a 
musical phrase to suit a bit of action was sometimes so un- 
orthodox it threw them off. They would try to explain the 
technical reasons for not being able to give him what he asked 

“Well, I’m not concerned about that,” Dad would say. 
“Just put it down here the wav 1 want it.” 

It was only after they’d done so that they could see that, 
though unorthodox. Dad’s dramatic instinct as it related to 
music was brilliant. So phrase after phrase, literally note by 
note. Dad and his valiant musicians worked their way through 
The Great Dictator. The musicians turned gray and were on 
the verge of nervous breakdowns by the time it was over, but 



whatever they suffered they couldn’t say that working with 
Dad was ever dull, lie gave them a free performance at every 
session, because lie didn’t just hum or sing, or knock out a 
tunc on the piano. He couldn’t stay quiet that long. He would 
start gesturing with the miKsic, acting out the parts of the 
various people in the scene he was working on, but caricatur- 
ing their movements to evoke a tonal response in himself. At 
those times his acting was closer than ever to ballet. 

My father’s comedy in general more nearly resembles ballet 
than any other art. He has a dancer’s movements and manner- 
isms — almost feminine mannerisms, though not effeminate. 
He’s light on his feet, with an acrobat’s sure sense of timing. 
His small, delicate hands arc so articulate that if you follow 
them you can usually tell exactly the impression he wants to 
convey. Ballet dancers are the first to recognize my father’s 
proficiency in their field. Most of those who have seen him 
perform will tell you frankly that he is as good a dancer as 
they. And Robert Helpmann, one of the stars of the famed 
Sadler’s Wells troupe, once told screen writer Dudley Nichols 
that Dad was far better than he could ever be. 

Dad loves ballet. He is familiar with all the dancers, even 
the minor ones. Among the ballerinas Dad used to admire 
Alicia Markova -and Alexandra Danilova, especially Danilova. 
Of the male ballet dancers I remember his mentioning Fedor 
Lensky, Igor Youskevitch and Frederic Franklin. 

Years before, he had met Nijinsky, and he still spoke with 
awe of his performance in The Specter of the Rose. Dad 
would tell me the plot, and when he came to the part in which 
Nijinsky dives through the window with the rose in his 
mouth. Dad would imitate him and with an imaginary 
between his teeth go diving off somewhere himself. 

“He’d go backstage spitting blood,” Dad would say. Ami 
I could tell by the tone of his voice how deeply he admired 
this man who gave himself so wholeheartedly to his art that it 
wrecked his health. 

When speaking of Nijinsky, Dad would invariably add 



the melancholy fact that Nijinsky had gone insane. “Oh, he 
was mad, mad,” he would exclaim. It seemed to amaze and 
trouble him, and as always whenever he speaks of insanity he 
would add, “Of course you know there’s some insanity in our 
family, too.” 

With regard to himself I don’t think my father gave much 
thought to the slender borderline that so many people believe 
lies between insanity and genius. So far as I know he never 
admitted to genius himself, though he liked to brag about 
being an egocentric. “They call me a genius,” he would say, 
laughing. “I’ve never aspired to be one. 1 just make things as 
I see them and feel them.” 

Every time a ballet troupe came to town Dad would take 
in the performance, not once but several times. He knew the 
stories, the music and all the parts by heart. He usually visited 
the troupe backstage afterwards and always extended a cordial 
invitation to them to come to tiie house on the hill. The 
famous Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the equally famous 
Sadler’s Wells troupe were gue.sts at his home. Dad and the 
ballet dancers had a lot of fun together. Dad has never studied 
ballet, but he could mimic the dancers superbly. 

“Oh, you did a wonderful arabesque there in the second 
act of SiL'an Lake,^' he would say to a ballerina, and he would 
immediately strike the pose. “You did this,” he would go on. 
“Oh, it was lovely!” and he would pirouette gracefully. “Oh, 
that leap!” Dad himself would imitate the leap, but in exag- 
gerated form. From then on it was burlesque every step of the 
way in a wilder and wilder tempo, until the ballet dancers 
would be in hysterics. 

I wasn’t there the afternoon that a visit from a ballet troupe 
almost ended in tragedy, bur Dad told me about it, acting it 
out for me, of course. Around the circular driveway of his 
home, to the right as you approach the house, there is a para- 
pet. The side tliat faces the driveway is about a foot Iiigh. But 
on the other side there is a ten-foot sheer drop down into the 
steep wooded slopes below. 



It had been a pleasant afternoon, with drinks and dance 
demonstrations and joking all round. And now in a jocular 
mood everyone was on the driveway, where the dancers were 
telling Dad good-by and getting ready to go home. Suddenly 
Casimir Kokitch jumped up on the parapet without looking 
on the other side. 

“This is how we do it,” he announced, and stood there 
poised as gracefully as a bird. “Then the leap in the grand 

Before Dad could stop him he sprang lightly into the air 
and immediately disappeared from view. 

Everyone crowded to the wall and looked over. There lay 
poor Casimir Kokitch limp and motionless, sprawled among 
the pine trees. He’d been conditioned for doing lca|«, but ob- 
viously not for this ten-foot flight straight down to a steep 

Some of the women started screaming. 

“Oh, my God,” Dad cried, in his mind’s eye seeing Casimir 
Kokitch with every bone in his body broken. He called for 
Frank to phone the doctor. Then they all made their way to 
the foot of the wall and gathered round the unconscious man, 
afraid to move him. The women were crying. The whole 
company was conjecturing about broken bones, broken back, 
broken neck, internal injuries, fractured skull — everything in- 
cluding the melancholy fact that Kokitch might at that very 
moment be dying. 

“Damn it,” Dad kept muttering. “Where’s that doctor? 
Where is the blockhead? Why doesn’t he come?” 

In the middle of everything Casimir Kokitch suddenly 
opened his eyes, shook himself and got to his feet, looking 
around inquiringly. So far as anyone could sec there wasn't 
much wrong with him. The liquor had so relaxed him that he 
had easily performed a feat he would never have dreamed of 
attempting intentionally. 

The women who had been crying began to laugh, and then 
everyone joined in; Kokitch laughed too, though a little 



shamefacedly. They all trooped back to the driveway, and 
of course they had to have another round of drinks to cele- 
brate. The doctor arrived in time to join in the toast. 

Dad liked to tell that story as a good illustration of the dif- 
ference between tragedy and comedy. 

“If you kick a man in the rear, but not coo hard, and he goes 
sprawling in a funny fashion but doesn’t get hurt, it’s funny,” 
hr used ro tell me. “If you kick hiir too hard, it’s rrarnc. k’s 
<<niy' a matter of degree.” 

Dad himself has always managed care ully cc keep his 
cr.nieaies iialanced on the very of iragedy. jack 
Oakie likes to call the “dL.inadv ” 

“Your father,” he told me, ‘ lias che talcnr for puttinT a tear 
in your throat and uiaai.'.g ci cougn u i.p v. nh itugh.” 



In the spring and summer of 1940, Syd and I were entering a 
new phase of our teenage life. We were fourteen and fifteen 
years old and the first bashful feelings of love were giving 
way to a slightly more knowledgeable attitude. Movie ro- 
mances with those long, passionate kisses between hero and 
heroine made us feel sadly deficient in the art. Eager to be as 
capable as the screen Romeos, we would sometimes grab 
Paulette and kiss her just for practice. 

“Oh, that’s a terrible kiss,’’ Paulette would laugh, wiping 
off our clumsy attempts. And then addressing herself to Dad 
she would say, as always, “Charlie, your sons are getting more 
like you every day.” 

Perhaps we were getting more like Dad. In size we were ac- 


tually outstripping him; we had both grown taller than he. 
Paulette, who long before had starred calling Dad “Big 
Charlie” and me “Little Charlie,” so that we wouldn’t both 
come running at her summons, had to cast about for some- 
thing more appropriate, and I became Charlie, Jr. 

Syd and I weren’t just growing in height. We were also be- 
coming more astute — in money matters, for instance. Our al- 
lowance had been raised to a dollar a week, but it still wasn’t 
enough. We had discovered, however, that Dad was an easy 
touch when he was in a jubilant, creative mood. By timing 
things right, Syd, who was bolder than 1, was able to borrow 
the yacht from him several week ends. But usually what we 
needed was cash. VV'^e learned to ask for about twice as much 
as we expected to get. 

We became aware, too, of how sensitive Dad was about one 
of his idiosyncrasies, his poor memory where names were con- 
cerned. He could never remember names, not even those of 
people whom he most admires. He labels people exclusively 
by their occupations. 1 recall the day he went to introduce me 
to Vladimir Horowitz and found himself stuck. 

“Oh, ah, uh, this is my son, Charlie, Jr.,” he said in a low, 
running monotone, so that you could not be sure what he was 
saying, “and this is uh-ah-yes, you remember him, Charles, 
the great pianist. My son here is very interested in classical 

I was amused at how successfully he passed it off with pan- 
tomime. But he wasn’t always able to cover up his failing so 
easily. I remember how one day he stayed in the Hollywood 
Brown Derby several hours because he was too embarrassed 
to pass Joe E. Brown, the comedian, whom he had greeted 
upon entering with “I lello, Harry.” In his inimitable way he 
had confused Joe E.’s name with that of the producer Harry 
Joe Brown. 

Dad was the same with telephone numbers, including his 
own, which he’d had for years. “Oh, let me give you my 



phone number ... 1 ...” he would say, and then mrn to 
Paulette or Syd or me with “Now what is that number 
again?” He couldn’t even remember his address, though he 
knew well enough how to get there. 

Dad once explained his poor showing on numbers and 
names to me. He was a slow reader, he said, and had to work 
at memorizing anything. So he spent his time only on what he 
liked. He knew reams of Shakespeare. 

By this time Syd and I were old enough to bo included in 
the dinner parties Dad gave. There were veiy few big affairs 
at his house. Small, select gatherings were the usual order of 
things. When Dad was in the mood he would jump to bis 
feet right in the middle of the meal and start pantomiming 
something. If other comedians were present you could count 
on a real ball, because all those hams would be trying to outdo 
one another. 

After dinner the fun went on late into the night. Sorietimes 
Dad would put on his Balinese records and dance for his 
guests. Sometimes he would do his side-splitting one-man 
imitation of a bull fight. At other times he would spend a 
whole evening acting out a story he had written, or dish up 
a real-life drama. One of his favorite subjects was still Dr. 
Reynolds. He liked to pantomime the time Dr. Reynolds pur 
on a production of Hamlet in a local theater. Dr. Reynolds, 
playing the part of Hamlet, portrayed him as a dangerous 
paranoiac. Dad squinned through the perfonnance and after- 
wards had to go backstage and congratulate the doctor. 

Dr. Reynolds, in his black tights, was standing in an affected 
pose, his legs crossed, his back to the door, a lighted cigarerre 
in a long holder in one hand, waiting for Dad’s accolades wnth 
a great show of indifference. Dad is an honest man when it 
comes to appraising an actor’s work, even to his face. But 
Dr. Reynolds wasn’t an actor. He was a friend who tliought 
he could act. Dad says that getting any words out of his 



mouth at all was one of the most painful experiences of his 

“Wcllll. . he began, . . it was . . . you know . . . nice.” 

Dr. Reynolds whirled around. “Was 1 that good?” he shot 
hack. “Did you really like it that much?” 

My father always got a howl when he did this scene. 

Sometimes with the late Lcnore Gotten, wife of the actor 
Joseph Gotten, at the piano. Dad would mimic various opera 
singers in their native tongues. Once after giving a beautiful 
rendition of a Russian opera, he shrugged off the astonished 
admiration of his friends with the explanation, “I can’t sing. 
I’m only imitating Ghaliapin singing well.” 

The songs Dad loved best were Irish ballads. (lie has always 
been partial to the Irish and likes to brag that his father was 
part Irish.) Sitting cross-legged on the floor among his guests, 
he would sing those ballads in the manner of John McGor- 
mack, whom he admired and who was his friend. 

My father’s best audience at these song fests wasn’t Irish, 
though, but Swedish. She was Greta Garbo. She would be 
.sitting there with that grave, almost austere, look of loneliness 
which has become her trademark, holding a drink in her hand 
and twisting it around and around, but never drinking much. 
As she listened to Dad you could sec lier relax. Her withdrawn 
face would begin to sparkle, and before the evening was over 
she would be as giggling and gay as any schoolgirl. Presently 
she and the whole group would join Dad in singing. 

So far as I know Dad never dared Garbo, either berore or 
after his marriage to Paulette, but they were friends. My 
father admired her for her intellect as well as her beauty, and 
when he spoke of her there was always a note of deference in 
his voice. His conversations with her were usually about some 
creative aspect of motion picture making, the arts or balict. 
Every now and then when they were talking. Dad would get 
expansive and come out with an idea for a picture he wanted 
to do with her. Unlike the people who took Dad’s sudden 



enthusiasms seriously and then were angry or hurt when noth- 
ing came of them, Garbo accepted it all with a grain of salt. 

“I’d love to do a picture for you, Charlie,” she would say. 
And then she would discuss the idea with him without ex- 
pecting to hear anything more about it after that. It was like 
a little game between them. 


Toward the end of the summer my father again entered that 
final painful phase of picture making, the time of anxiety 
when a producer tensely awaits the public’s verdict on his ef- 
forts. Dad felt a special concern about 'I'he Great Dictator, 
for it was different in kind from any of his other pictures. 
Always with them he had hoped for two things, to m.ike 
people laugh and to make money. But with The Great Dicta- 
tor there was something else involved: it had become impera- 
tive to him to get across his outcry against the hell of war 
and the evils of oppression. For the first time 1 heard my 
father speak seriously of prayer in connection with a picture. 

“I’m praying, son, that this picture will have a good mes- 
sage and maybe help mankind a bit,” he said to me suddenly 



one day. But he wouldn’t have been my father if he hadn’t 
added in a humorous aside, “I’m also praying it will be a big 
hit, because I’ve spent a lot of money on it.’’ 

Dad was vague about who it was to whom he addressed 
his prayer. I never heard him speak of God as a personal power 
or conjecture about what comes after death. lie never even 
mentioned death as far as I can recall. I le wasn’t one to adopt 
an organized religion, and he didn’t care for ritualistic ser- 
vices, though he openly and ardently admired the architecture 
of churches and synagogues. He never forced his own beliefs 
on Syd and me, though occasionally he would speak of them 
to us. 

“I’m not an atheist.” I can remember his saying on more 
than one occasion. “I’m definitely an agnostic. Some scien- 
tists say that if the world were to stop revolving we’d all 
disintegrate. But the world keeps on going. Something must 
be holding us all in place — some Supreme Force. But what it 
is I couldn’t tell you.” 

Dad’s opinion of this Supreme Force varied with his moods. 
Sometimes, reading the headlines of the bloody battles raging 
in Europe, he would shake his head and say, “It must be 
Something very vicious that permits people to kill one another 
in this way.” 

Sometimes in the solitude of seashore or mountain he would 
speak of the Supreme Force almost tenderly, as of Something 
sublimely beautiful, mirroring itself so eloquently in rushing 
waves or snowdrifts, solemn rocks and ancient trees. 

It was to this Something that he addressed his prayers for 
the success of The Great Dictator. 

Dad and Paulette didn’t go to New York together for the 
premiere. That should have looked strange to Syd and me if 
we had stopped to think about it. Paulette was in Mexico Citv. 
on her second trip there in recent months. On a similar visi; 
in May with her mother she had struck up a friendship wirh 
Diego Rivera, the well-known Mexican painter. Paulette has 



a penchant for meeting talented people. She was always bring- 
ing them up to the house for dinner. 

Though she wasn’t going with Dad, Paulette did plan to 
fly to New York from Mexico City in time for the jjrcniierc. 
Dad left Hollywood by train with Tim Durant. Whenever 
possible Dad traveled by tram rather than plane. He wasn’t 
completely relaxed in planes, especially after one rather hair- 
raising experience when his plane came down out of the 
clouds over New York City. “All of a sudden.” he recalled 
with a shudder, “1 looked out of the window and I could see 
the secretaries typing inside the Kmpire Stare Building. After 
that I hated flying.” 

But whether Dad goes bv plane or train or boat, there has 
always been something melodramatic about his !ea\ e-rakings. 
1 le’s one of those split-second travelers u Ik^ •.ifrive just in the 
nick of time. 1 le never had to bother about packing, becausc- 
Frank rook care of this well ahead of rime and then went 
down to the station to check in the liaggagc. Alter rluu he 
had to wait for Dad, whom Kay would drive down. 1 dordt 
know how many rimes good, faithful Frank was left pacing 
back and forth in the .station, looking at his watch, comparing 
it with the station clock, checking his watch again. c\ing the 
door through which he expected Dad. 1 know that each tine 
he wondered if the luggage w ould in the end go od w’ithoin 

I don’t know what always dclavcd Dad. except that it wa;; 
usually little things. He would run out of doors and look at 
the weather. “Oh, 1 need iiiy coat,” he would cry, and rush, 
back for it and put it on. He would come out wearing it, 
■‘No, 1 don’t think I need it after all. ” And he would take it 
back again. 

He w'ould rush around the house looking for various little 
items, flnehng ihcin, deciding lie eliiin’r need them and replac- 
ing them. 'Fowartl the end of all thi . m.inciivcring Kay, who 
had been striding along behind him wherever he went, would 
start urging him ro hurry. “Mr. Chapilaine, Mr. Chapilainc. 



your train,” he would say in anguished tones. And then he 
would whip up his arm and look at his watch. “Mr. Chapi- 
laine, you’ll be late. Must hurry now.” 

At last Dad would pull out his own watch, fumble for his 
glasses, put them on and look at the time for himself. An ex- 
pression of consternation would cross his face. “Kay, why 
didn’t you warn me? It’s getting late,” he would moan. 

Then everyone would dash for the car, and Kay, weaving 
in and out of traffic, would make for the station with Dad sit- 
ting on the edge of the back scat, anxiously urging him on. 

At the station everyone would jump out and nin, with 
Dad far in advance, scurrying along. Frank, perspiring by this 
time, would rush forward to greet him, calling, “I lurry! 
Hurrv, Mr. Chaplin! Can’t you see the train’s leaving?” 

So he would take Dad’s arm and, urging and shoving him 
along, would literally boost him onto the moving train. It 
was exactly in that way that Dad and Tim finally got aboard 
that October day for the New York opening of The Great 

The premiere was a memorable affair, as were all the 
premieres of m\’ father’s pictures, riicrc were crowds of fans 
around the j\stor and Capitol theaters, where it was being 
shown simultaneously, and both houses were packed with 
scintillating personalities both in and out of show 
And of course there were the ever ready critics. As usual they 
received Dad’s picture with mixed reactions. They thought 
the Little Tramp had exceeded himself, and had tackled some- 
thing beyond his powers. They objected to the closing speech. 
Dad’s impassioned outcry for the oppressed of the world, as 
being too long and rhetorical. Many people in show business 
agreed with the critics. Perhaps Mary Pickford, who calls the 
Little I'ramp the Little Philosopher, best voices the sentiments 
of this school of thought: “It is deplorable that he who gave 
so much to the world turned his back on the tramp and en- 
tered politics by introducing such themes into his pictures. 
When he did he loit me.” 



But the opinions of the critics and such professionals as 
Mary Pickford were not supported by those whom Dad has 
always regarded as his final judge and jury — the people. The 
Great Dictator was accepted with enthusiasm, first by United 
States audiences and later by those around the world. 

“I’ve made more than a hundred pictures,” Jack Oakic says, 
“bur the only one they remember me by is The Great Dicta- 
tor. Why, even on my trip to Mexico the people greeted 
me at the plane with the Ktscist salute.” 

My father had crossed the first luirdle with The Great Dic- 
tator in getting it to the screen. Nonetheless, he was cven’u.aliv 
to feel that he paid dearly for making it. l ie was convinced 
that it was the cause of most of his subseipicnt troubles, 
claiming it antagonized certain powerful pro Nazi propaganda 
groups in this country which then began working against him. 
I know that of its rheme The Grear 
Dictator was banned from many foreign markets at the rime. 
German and Italian diplomats worked fevcrisitly to have it 
barred in Latin America. 

But during its revival in Europe in 1958 it played to 
crowded houses in England, France and Germ.any. When it 
was shown in Germany the critics hailed it as a “macabre 
masterpiece.” Only the joung could laugh at that picnirc, 
said the critics. The old wept as at remembered sins. 

At the Capitol Theater opening Dad galvanized liis audi- 
ence with a piece of information which reporters had been 
trying for years to worm out of him and Paulette. At the close 
of the picture he appeared on the stage and made a short 
speech in which he introduced Paulette as “my wife.” It was 
the first time Dad had ever publicly bestowed that title on her, 
and it sent the newsmen scurrying from the theater to phone 
in the story. 

There was a lot of speculation then and later about why 
Dad chose this particular time, with his separation from 
Paulette so imminent, to make the announcement. There was, 
of course, the angle of the clubwomen who had been getting 



more and more vociferous about Paulette's status, until Dad 
was afraid it might hurt his box office. But Dad, though natur- 
ally strongly motivated by concern for the box office, usually 
has more than one reason for what he does, and I think he 
may have felt that this belated announcement might help to 
patch up his marriage. 

After the premiere Dad remained in the East, ostensibly to 
open The Great Dictator in key cities, u hile Paulette returned 

Hollywood to play hostess to 11 (ji. VVehs, who was on a 
lecture tour and would stay at Dad’s house for two 
Ikit Paulette didn’t remain long at the i)Ousc on the luH. Some - 
time in the early part of December she moved into the empty 
beach house of her agent, Myron Scl/nick. 

It was Pancho who helped Paulette move, 1 giKSS we mighr 
consider iiim the first casualtv of our close-knit family, hccause 
one day shortly before The Great Dictator opened he showed 
up at the house to announce with a proud grin that he wa^ 
married. Dad and Pauleire each gave him a gift of a check, 
/vs for Syd and me, pow that Pancho w^as married, he was no 
longer in our class. He became k rank to us, and in five months 
the break v/as made complete when he left rny father’s env 
ploy and went into work. When in ’46 he returned as 
a driver for DacTs studio, the old relationship was gone be- 
cause Syd and I, too, were no longer children. All three of us 
had been through a war and had lived to talk about it — it was 
this kind of relationship between us from then on. 

I think Paulette took the Bedlington terriers aw'ay with her 
at the time she moved to Sclznick’s beach house. She was at- 
tached to them and Dad was not. And she knew Syd and i 
would not be able to care for them much longer because it 
had been arranged for us to go to Lavvrcnccvillc, New Jersey, 
the following year to prep for Princeton. The departure of 
the Bedlington terriers, with wffiich Syd and I had had so 
many years of fun, w^as another breach in our family circle. 

Dad wasn’t home when Paulette moved away, though he 
knew about it, because Alf Reeves kept him informed. But Syd 


and I remained in the dark. When Dad returned home from, 
the East and we went up to see him on week ends again, we 
just didn’t find Paulette around. Dad would explain to us tha*: 
she was away on business, but that seemed strange, because 
she had never been absent so long before. 

We wondered too why Paulette didn’t go along with Dad 
when he went to President Roosevelt’s inauguration in Janc- 
iiry of ’41. My father, as an influential citizen of Hollywood, 
headed a delegation of actors who were to provide entertain- 
ment for the festivities. 

It was the climax of a long association with President 
velt which had begun for Dad during the First World War. 
Dad has always maintained tliat President Roosevelt was the 
greatest president the United States has ever had. He even 
holds him above Lincoln, though in this particular he finds 
himself almost alone in Europe. 

Dad has the same admiration for .Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt 
“That woman is so homely she’s beautiful,” he used to rerrark. 
“It’s the aura that surrounds her.” 

At a preinaugural concert on January 19, which .Mrs. 
Roosevelt and other members of the President’s family at- 
tended, my father highlighted the evening by delivering the 
final speech from The Great Dictator. The critics had called 
it rhetorical, but my father had meant every word of it. ’n 
the midst of his appeal for world freedom his voice broke and 
he had to for water. While he waited for Doug Fairbanks, 
Jr., to hand him the glass, the audience burst into applause 
that lasted for more than a minute. My father’s appearance at 
that gathering, the heartfelt applause at his earnest words, 
might be called the pinnacle of his public success in this coun- 
try. From then on the path led downward by subtle degrees 
until it ended in his self-imposed exile. 

When Dad returned from the inaugural his mind was full of 
ideas for another picture. It was to be a story about immi- 
grants in New York, he said, and he was going to give Paulette 
the leading role in it. This must be the picture that Dad devel- 



(ipcd vc.irs hirer in I'ur<i|ic as The Kintr hi York. 
(Hilaries Dickens’ .Martin Chiizzloveit, ir became .i bitrer satire 
of rlie a\- he had been rreared b\ his American cousins. Bur a 
lor of water was ro flow under rlie bridge before that picture 
came to fruition. 

W’hile Dad was toying with the thought of doing the im- 
migrant story he was aLso working on another idea. It seems 
that, as in the case of The Great Dictator, several ideas at a 
time war with one another in the arena of my father’s mind, 
and it is only after a knockdown struggle that the strongest 
wins. This idea, which my father told Louclla Parsons about 
that spring, was the stor\’ of a perennial drunk who comes 
across a little chorus girl who doesn’t know he exists, but with 
whom, in his loneliness, he falls in love. I'.ventually the nucleus 
of this story was to be enlarged ro Lhnelight, the last picture 
Dad made in America. The difference in the plot is that the 
chorus girl in Limelight docs know the man e.xisrs and loves 
him for what he is, despite his being so much older than she. 
Perhaps it was Dad’s happy marriage to Oona that twisted the 
plot around in this way. 

There was a third idea which Dad had in mind at this time. 
It was the stor)' of Monsieur Landru, the French Bluebeard. 
This picture was eventually to win over the other two, but 
it was not to see the screen for six years. 

At the end of March, Dad went back East again, this time 
to testify as a character witness for Joseph M. Schcnck in the 
suit the federal government was bringing against him on a 
charge of income-tax evasion. 

My father stayed in the East a long while. At that time I 
believe he was more partial to the immigrant story than to 
either of the others and was thinking seriously of remaining 
in New York to do it. It is ironic to think that if he had he 
might have escaped the whole sequence of unhappy events 
that began that June when he met a girl by the name of Joan 

By the time Dad returned to Hollywood the separation bc- 



tween him ami Paulctrc was so complete that there was noth- 
ing to do but explain it to Sycl and me. 

“Well, y<<ur stepmother and I don’t see eye to eye any 
more,” Dad told us, “so we’ve separated.” 

Our father’s announcement was a shock. Though we might 
have expected this kind of solution to domestic problems from 
our mother, whose last two marriages were well within our 
ken, we had never dreamed that it would happen to Paulette 
and Dad. 

I tried to think back to see when the incompatibility had 
started, how it had manifested itself. There had been tears dur- 
ing the filming of The Great Dictator, but never any real 
quarrels that I could remember. I supposed tliere were argu- 
ments now and then in private because sometimes Paulette 
would come downstairs looking irritated. 

“Your father’s so stubborn,” she might say, but no more. 
In the next minute she would be all gaiety again. 

But that kind of thing was just the normal give and take of 
domesticity. I couldn’t even recall seeing anything that might 
have pas.sed for serious jealousy. 

“You know, a lot of men were looking at you last night,” 
Dad might say to Paulette the morning after a party 

“Well, the women weren’t exactly overlooking you, Char- 
lie,” Paulette would respond. 

Then they would kid back and forth about it. There had 
always been so much kidding between them, so much joking 
and laughter and fun around the place — in the main everyone 
had seemed happy and contented. Yet it had all suddenly 
blown up. How could you rely on stability in anything after 
this? Life began to take on an ephemeral look to my youth- 
ful eyes. Everything appeared to be fleeting; nothing endured 
for long, married happiness least of all. The house on the hill 
seemed sad, now tliat Paulette was not around with her gay 
spirits and her laughter. 

“It’s too bad Paulette isn’t here,” I’d say to Dad sometimes 




when we were enjoying something that once all four of us 
had had fun doing together. 

“It’s just one of those sad things, son,” Dad would answer. 
“That’s life for you.” 

It was almost the same answer he had given when explain- 
ing my changed birth dates to me. It was Dad’s philosophy for 
all the vagaries of existence. 


I’m sure it wasn’t easy for my father, after a marriage of five 
years or so, suddenly to find himself alone again. When 
Paulette left, his moods of depression seemed to become more 
frequent, and sometimes when he got to philosophizing about 
human nature and the world, his disappointments and disillu- 
sionments, he would talk unhappily of the failures in his life. 
He didn’t speak of his marriage, but I could guess this was one 
of the things that troubled him. He told me instead about how 
he had dreamed of being a concert violinist and had never 
carried the dream through. He even spoke of how his pic- 
tures had failed in one way or another. It was strange to hear 
him discussing his failures at the height of his success, but my 
heart went out to him, because I could see he was genuinely 
troubled and unhappy. 



Syd’s and mv posirion with our father had changed once 
more. We were no longer just children to him. We had be- 
come companions. He depended on us a great deal during 
that period of his loneliness. I didn’t realize then how much 
store niy father set on the bond of our common blood. Kin- 
dred blood gives him a feeling of unity and solidarity. Be- 
cause of it he had amply provided for his mother as soon as 
he began to earn his own way, had made places in I lolly wood 
for his half brothers, Uncle Sydney and Uncle Wheeler, and 
had cared for Syd and me. It was on the alchemy of blood 
that he depended for our loyalty and love in return. I remem- 
ber the day he revealed his feeling to us. That day has always 
meant a great deal to me. 

He had been wrapped in the silence of his own thoughts 
and then suddenly there was a quick urge to speak. He turned 
to us. “Sometimes,” he said, “I tliink you two, you, Charles 
and Sydney, are the only ones in the whole world who have 
ever really loved me.” 

Just that one sentence, but it revealed to us both the depth 
of his inward loneliness and his dependence on us. 

Now that Dad was in effect a bachelor, he was free to take 
out other girls. Yet he went about it discreetly, for the last 
thing he wished was to attract unfavorable publicity. Syd and 
I often acted as his chaperones whenever he appeared in pub- 
lic with a date. 

I remember I was the chaperone on his first date with Carole 
Landis. I had a crush on Carole at the time, though she was 
about twenty-two and I was just sixteen, so I jumped at Dad’s 
invitation to have dinner with them. But there was a string at- 

“I’m going to take Carole to a little party afterwards where 
we’ll be with intimate friends,” Dad said. “So after dinner 
you just tell her you’re very tired and have to go to bed early.” 

“Fine,” I said. “Oh, just fine. Dad.” 

So I dressed myself up in my best dark suit, put a tie on and 



brushed and curried my hair as though for a grand reception. 

With Kay at the wheel we drove over to Carole’s place. I’ll 
never forget how she appeared that night, limned in the light 
as Dad escorted her to the limousine. She wore a black dress 
that followed the lines of her fabulous figure, and her blond 
hair was swinging at her shoulders. Seeing her I could under- 
stand why that year they had given her the title of Miss Ping. 
They were always hanging a title of some kind on Carole. 
My own heart began to ping as she c'imbed in beside me. 

“Oh, this is your son,” Carole said, turning to me as she sat 
down. “Nice-looking, Charlie.” 

There she was right beside me, blond and laughing, and I 
was so bashful I couldn’t get a word out. I just sat there like 
a goofy kid trying to keep my big crush from showing. But 
wann-hcarted Carole saw it and her eyes were dancing, while 
Dad on the other side wore a broad smile. 

All through the meal 1 couldn’t take my eyes off Carole. I 
hung on every word she said and 1 hardly heard Dad when, 
over coffee, he threw me the clue. 

“Well, son, we’re going to . . .” Me had to say it twice be- 
fore I woke up. 

“Oh, Dad, that’s right,” I said, almost choking on my words. 
“I have to get up early in the morning for the beach. Do you 
mind if I go home now?” 

Dad went out with Carole occasionally for a couple of 
months, but I saw her only once more. After a party he 
brought her by the house with another couple for a nightcap 
before taking her home. They pur on some tango records and 
danced awhile and finally 1 found the courage to cut in. 

“May I have a dance with you?” 1 asked her. 

Carole laughed and danced with me good-naturedly while 
my' head spun like a top. I kept thinking of how nice it would 
be to have a date with her, to take her to the movies and then 
out for a soda or something, but I never dreamed of asking 
her. After all, she was Dad’s girl. I told my father how I felt 

25 » 


only after I noticed he had stopped dating her. Dad was 

“Had I known it, Carole would have loved a date with you,” 
he said. 

But it was too late then. It was almost time for me to go 
East to school. That was a cruel wrench, “ I'o heck with it, 
with people like Carole around,” I told myself. But Dad 
wanted me to finish my education, and 1 wanted to please him. 
So I tore myself away from my daydreams and I never saw 
Carole again. 

It was a shock to all of us when she committed suicide in 
1948, seven years after my father had dated her and I had 
been so struck with her warm heart and her charms. 

Another girl my father dated at the time of his separation 
from Paulette was Hedy Lamarr. I still thought she was beau- 
tiful, though this was after I’d lost my heart to Carole Landis. 
Dad has always been a connoisseur of women’s charms, and 
not just those of the women he went out with. He liked to 
pick out the best features of each for comment. He preferred 
long hair to short and I think brunettes to blondes. He com- 
mented on my mother’s vivacious brunette beauty, the vibrant 
way she carried herself. He spoke of Carole Landis’ wonder- 
ful figure and of Hedy Lamarr’s face — a Madonna-like face, 
he said, that in repose could capture the heart of any man in 
the world. But he thought the serene quality was marred when 
Hedy smiled, and was of the opinion that she should never 
do so. He admired the ethereal, exotic beauty of Merle 
Oberon, who, with her husband, the late Alexander Korda, 
used to visit us often. But it was Garbo’s spirit, shining through 
the envelope of flesh, that most attracted him to that lovely 

Yet it wasn’t girls that occupied the most important place 
in my father’s life after Paulette left. It was tennis. It was 
the only sport into which he flung himself with wholehearted 
abandon, though he was also a fine swimmer and he liked to 



tell US of how he had placed in the marathon foot races in 
England when he was young. Football he abhorred and he 
cautioned us against playing it; he was sure we’d get our col- 
larbones or our skulls fractured. He didn’t like boxing, either. 

I ignored Dad’s opinion about boxing when I entered the 
army and found that because my father was Charlie Chaplin 
I had to prove myself doubly. It was in an army boxing ring 
in France, fighting a losing battle with a near-professional 
much heavier than I, that I suffered a cracked nose and won 
the right to be respected as an individual. 

When I came back Dad noticed my nose at once and was 
distressed. He had always insisted that tennis was the proper 
game for Syd and me to play. But I never took him up on it, 
no matter how much he urged. I’m the type who’s embar- 
rassed to miss the ball, which you do more often than not 
when you’re a beginner. Perhaps, too, I really didn’t want 
to be in competition with Dad — not with his girls or his tennis. 
Syd was of braver stuff. Though he felt the same way 1 did 
about Dad’s girls, he accepted his challenge on tennis and 
started learning to play it. 

I remember those pitiful beginnings when Syd practiced 
with Dad and Dad shut him out so easily each time — six-love, 
six-love. Syd never got a game, though Dad could have 
thrown him one now and then to keep him from losing 
morale. But Dad said catering to a person’s sensitivity like that 
wouldn’t make him a good tennis player. 

Take a boy like Sydney. He really didn’t need any buildup 
of morale to keep him going on anything. He never gave in, 
once he made up his mind to something. I remember how, 
when bowling took hold of him. Mother couldn’t get him 
away from the bowling alleys no matter how hard she tried. 
He spent day and night there — and all his allowance — and 
went around with circles under his eyes while the obsession 

So it was with Sydney and tennis. He kept practicing and 
practicing. I think Dad helped him along by buying tennis 



lessons for him from Bill Tilden. In addition, Syd spent his 
own money on instruction away from the house, where it 
wasn’t so embarrassing to miss a ball now and then. Finally 
he began to take a game or two away from Dad. But that still 
wasn’t enough for Syd. He spent several years practicing and 
then one day he gave Dad such a beating that Dad treated 
him with real respect from then on. 

Beating Dad was a formidable accomplishment. Out here 
on the Coast, where most of the best tennis players live, Dad 
was always in the top bracket. Back East the social set consid- 
ered him practically a champion. He should have been. He 
went to every tennis match at the club in Beverly Hills and 
knew the good players. He had all the professionals up at his 
house. Helen Wills, Pauline Betz, Bill Tilden, Fred Perry and 
Don Budge were frequent and welcome visitors there. Dad 
played them all and picked up pointers from them. Of course 
he couldn’t take a game from a pro like Bill Tilden unless 
Tilden wasn’t in form or, as he sometimes did, let Dad have a 
game. Dad used to brag about that but in a Joking way, be- 
cause he knew what Tilden was doing. 

Like many tennis players. Dad seemed to attach an almost 
mystic power to the racket he used. I remember the week end 
he bought a new one. It was an expensive but not an extraor- 
dinary racket, but when he won the first game he was sure 
there was something special about it. When he won the sec- 
ond game the racket became almost sacred to him. From then 
on he played all his games with that one racket, and for the 
longest stretch he was invincible. Then one day he picked up 
the racket and started to play. The game hadn’t gone far be- 
fore a puzzled frown came over his face. 

“I don’t think this is my racket,” he said suddenly. 

Both Tim and Frank assured him it was and he went on 
playing the game, and lost. He played two more games and 
lost them too. So far as he was concerned that was genuine 

“This just isn’t my racket,” he insisted. “Somebody must 
have gone off with mine and left this one.” 



On this theory he sent Frank all over town to ask the various 
guests who had been at his place the Sunday before if they 
had taken the racket by mistake. Frank, of course, returned 
from that fanciful quest empty-handed, but Dad still refused 
to be convinced. 

“Somebody must have stolen my good racket,” he mourned, 
“ril never find another like it.” You would have thought he 
had lost a dear friend. 

As time went by, the circle of tennis players who came up 
to the house widened. Presently the quiet Sunday afternoon 
tea and crumpets routine which Syd and I had known as chil- 
dren became a gala weekly open house, where you could meet 
such Hollywood luminaries as Katharine Ilepbum, Greta 
Garbo, Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper, John Garfield, Errol 
Flynn, David Niven and John McConnack. The list was 

Presently those who couldn’t play tennis began to come just 
to be seen at Dad’s house. People fought for invitations, 
knowns and unknowns came as guests of guests. I'hey were 
all welcome, especially if they could play tennis. Syd and I 
brought our young friends, and there was always a bevy of 
beautiful girls around, most of whom Ivad come with the hope 
that Charlie Chaplin would notice them and put them in one 
of his pictures. Wasn’t he the man who preferred to create 
his female leads out of youthful unknowns? 

The guests gathered on the courts at the foot of the ter- 
raced lawn. They engaged in cut-in matches or sat around 
talking in the adjacent tennis house or watched the games 
from its balcony. For those who didn’t play tennis tliere was 
the nearby swimming pool, but tennis was always the center 
of attraction on these days. 

Tea was served in a magnificent silver teapot. There was 
coffee, too, and sandwiches — white chicken and turkey meat 
between slices of trimmed white bread. The sandwiches were 
stacked in tiers on a huge platter three feet in diameter. Most 
of the people ate as though they hadn’t seen food in weeks — 
Dad ate right along with them — and the platter had to be 



replenished from time to time. But no matter how many guests 
were present or how much they ate, the supply never seemed 
to run out. There were also crumpets, always George’s deli- 
cious crumpets. 

While the matches were going on. Dad would concentrate 
everything on tennis, but afterwards he would hold court in 
the little tennis house. I'hen there would be lively discussions 
on all sorts of subjects, joking, storytelling — as was always the 
case with Dad around. When finally the gathering broke up, 
people went away feeling that it had been a great experience, 
a privilege, to have spent an afternoon with Charlie Chaplin. 

It was at a Sunday open house that summer that Dad met 
Joan Berry, who had taken the stage name of Joan Barry. 
She had come up from Mexico Qty with a letter of introduc- 
tion to Tim Durant from the late A. C. Blumenthal, who had 
become acquainted with her down there. She went with the 
letter to Tim Durant’s house, where she met Tim and his 
mother, who were both favorably impressed with her. She 
was pretty, with a demure freckled Irish face and beautiful 
red hair. To I'im she resembled a respectable Brooklyn 
stenographer — she came from that section of the country. She 
was attractive and quiet and apparently cultured. He invited 
her CO Dad’s open house any Sunday she chose to come. It was 
an easy way to pay off a Hollywood friend, Mr. Blumenthal. 

So Joan Barry and her mother, Mrs. Gertrude Berry, came 
up one Sunday afternoon and my father welcomed them with 
the same graciousness he showed to all his visitors. 


That fall of 1941, Syd and I set off for Lawrenceville, fully 
determined to make a go of our new school and to acquire 
si'ch learning as would make our father proud of us. It was 
the first time we had been so far away from our family and 
we were very homesick. VV^e might have become used to the 
separation in time, but December 7 Pearl I larbor was bombed 
and our country entered the war. Draft boards began signing 
recruits up by the thousands. Syd and I and millions of other 
boys in our age bracket knew it wouldn’t be long before we, 
too, would be in the anny. I'hat realization made any plan- 
ning for the future, any concern to get an education, look 
like a foolish waste of time. 

Because of the war we lost three more members of our 



household, Frank, Kay and (icorge. Dads faithful Japanese 
servants and the fond companions of our childhootl. All three 
were ordered by the government to leave for the internment 
camp at Manzanar. Dad was deeply depressed, but of course 
there was nothing he could do about it. Frank, who had come 
from Hawaii, and George and Kay, together with a lot of 
other Japanese, had to sell as many of their belongings as they 
could and throw away the rest. Taking only a couple of suit- 
cases with them, they and their families boarded the bus for 
Manzanar, leaving behind a great emptiness in the house on 
the hill. 

Dad never wrote lo Frank, but he didn’t forget him either. 
Every month during his stay at Manzanar, Frank received a 
pension check. And even now that Dad is in Vevey he still 
remembers Frank with a check at Christmas. 

When Syd and I came back from school that summer of 
’42, we found English servants in our old home. They were 
capable but aloof, and Syd and I could never get used to them 
after the friendly folksy Japanese, with whom we had grown 
up and who had seemed like part of our family. Dad missed 
the Japanese, too — their lightning-quick efficiency and the in- 
tuitive care with' which Frank had spoiled him. “They’re 
pretty good,” he would say someti.nes of the I'nglish. “Only 
they’re so slow. It takes hours now just to serve me a little 

That summer Paulette sealed her separation from our father 
with a divorce in iMe.xico. She received the decree in absentia 
from Judge Javier Rosas Seballos of the Mexican Civil Court 
at Juarez. It was he who disclosed not only the divorce but 
the year and place of the wedding, which Dad and Paulette 
had so assiduously kept from the press. It was in 1936 in 
Canton, China, just as Dad had told us. Paulette’s charges 
were incompatibility and separation for more than a year. 

That divorce marked finis to a relationship that had meant 



much to Syd and me throughout our childhood. But Paulette’s 
departure wasn’t really the end between us. h'.verything re- 
mained on the friendliest terms. Syd and I always considered 
her part of the family. We still do. 

Dad continued to see her now and then. And when she was 
in town and he was too busy for us, she would invite Syd and 
me over for a dinner or a movie or a little party at her place. 
Even after I was out of the army and in New York doing the 
play, Noiv I Lay Me Doivn to Sleep, with Fredric March and 
Florence Eldridge, I got a call from Paulette one day. She 
had married Burgess Meredith in May of 1944 and divorced 
him in Mexico in June of 1949. Now she was an unattached 
bachelor girl again. 

“I’ve been dating a rear admiral and he’s very dull,” she 
said. “Why don’t you take me out, Charlie?” 

“I’d love to, Paulette,” I told her, “but you know how 
actors arc — broke.” 

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” she laughed. “You know 
your ex has a little money stashed away, especially having 
been married to your father.” 

Paulette enjoyed joking about the settlement Dad made on 
her. “I think your father lost a lot when he married me,” she 
used to say. “1 even got the yacht.” 

I was never told how much Dad gave Paulette, but gossip 
said it was around a million. When Paulette joked about the 
settlement she never failed to add, “Your father is a wonder- 
ful man, and you must treat him as such.” 

Dad always praised Paulette, too, and he also liked to joke 
about the settlement. “Your ex is a very lovely gal — and a 
shrewd one,” he would say. “She took me for a little bit.” 

I had the feeling that though Dad was joking, it was joking 
on the level. He often warned Syd and me to be cautious of 
the female sex. No matter how nice they arc, he used to tell 
us, they will still sometimes try to get what they can. Syd and 
I had reached the age where Dad was beginning to worry 



.ihour us and our dating. Wc had become old ha>ids at it now 
and were bringing our girl friends u|) ro the house to go swim- 
ming or strolling through his w ooded estate. 

Thar summer of ’42 I met Joan Harry. It was ug at the house 
in the glassed-in study u hich was always so hrighr and cheer- 
ful. She was wearing a dark dress and her hair, very red, 
hung like a cloud about her shoulders. She had a nice figure, 
a cute, sweet face. She looked betu'een twenty-one and 

“Oh, this is Joan Barry, son,” Dad said as I came in. “She’ll 
be the lead in niv next picture, Shaiioio and Substance.'' 

He was really enthusiastic over Miss Barry. He sometimes 
talked to Syd and me about her potentialities. 

“She has a quality, an ethereal something that’s truly mar- 
velous,” he said. “A talent as great as any I’ve seen in my 
whole life. If it could be channeled 1 could make the most 
wonderful picture with her.” 

Dad was sincere in his desire to make a great actress of Miss 
Barry. This fact was often lost sight of in all the ballyhoo of 
the subsequent trials, in which the prosecuting attorneys tried 
to picture him as a ruthless philanderer. My father’s artistic 
integrity has always been the foremost thing in his life, as those 
who have worked with him will testify. No girl ever got into 
any of his pictures by way of a boudoir promise. She had to 
have real potentialities before he would invest time and money 
in her. 

When he met Joan Barry he was convinced she was right 
for the lead in the play, Shadow and Substance, which is the 
story of a young Irish girl of simple faith and a cynical canon. 
Dad had already paid twenty thousand dollars for the movie 
rights to the play. Now he put Miss Barry under contract, 
first at seventy-five and then at a hundred dollars a week. He 
sent her for three months to Max Reinhardt’s drama school, 
had her wardrobe designed and prepared for the picture, and 
paid for extensive dental work. He had thrown himself into 



writing the screenplay and was working on it tliat summer 
with all the intensity of his nature. 

At the same time he was coaching Miss Barry. I le would 
do bits out ol Shakespeare with her for guests, and everyone 
commented on her exceptional ability. But this was only 
drawing-room acting. Real acting isn’t glamorous, as so many 
people assume. It takes long hours of grueling work to bring 
what looks like a spontaneous performance to the stage. 
Though Miss Barry had many fine qualities, she lacked other 
qualities just as vital. She didn’t have the discipline or the 
wholehearted devotion to the theater which is a prerequisite 
for a good actor. Much less did she have the hardihood to 
stand up under my father’s persistent demand for perfection. 
She was undependable, sometimes coming late to rehearsals, 
sometimes not even showing up. Sometimes she would be bril- 
liant. This would be followed by periods when she refused or 
was unable to concentrate on her work. 

Almost from the first Tim Durant and other close friends 
urged my father to drop Miss Barry, whom they recognized 
as a very emotionally disturbed person. But Dad felt he could 
help her by forwarding her career. Finally, however, even he 
began to realize that despite the appealing, really lovely quali- 
ties he saw in her, she couldn’t become an actress. Actually 
she was a tragic figure from the start. 

But none of the unfortunate events that were to take place 
as a result of my father’s association with Joan Barry had yet 
occurred that summer. I spent an evening with her once at 
Dad’s request. He was busy working on Shadow and Sub- 
stance and as usual when the mood was with him, didn’t want 
to be interrupted. So he asked Nana and me to escort Miss 
Bar^ to the Ilollywood Bowl concert that night. My grand- 
mother found her as charming as Tim Durant’s mother had — 
a very friendly person who could talk about nothing but the 
opportunity Dad was giving her, an unknown, to be the lead 
in one of his pictures. 

It didn’t seem to me at the time that there was any profound 



atrachmcnf benvccn Dad and Miss Barry. She was just hi: 
protegee. I supposed, of course, that he dated her now ant 
then. But she was daring others, too. Even at the time Nana 
and I went up to her aparmient to caJl for her there was a gen- 
tleman visiting her. 

That w'as how things stood when I went back to Lawrence- 
ville in the fall. Syd didn’t go with me. He had had enough of 
regimentation and boys’ schools, and had decided to go to 
Nortli Hollywood High that year. I was sticking it out to 
please Dad, though almost as soon as I got back there I began 
to wish I had followed Syd’s example. I ffilt more lonely than 
ever, more isolated. And I was plagued by the thought that 
life was passing me up and that soon the army and a European 
battlefront would claim me. 

I was delighted when, that October, my father came East 
to make a speech. He obtained permission from the school for 
me to come in to sec him, and I went at once. 

This speech was one of several my father made for a second 
front at the beginning of the war. I believe his first w’as in San 
Francisco’s Cow Palace, where he spoke for the benefit of 
Russian war relief. He was substiuiting for Ambassador Joseph 
E. Davies, whom President Roosevelt had asked to speak but 
who had become too ill to do so. As usual, my father prepared 
his speech with a great deal of care and anxiety. But just be- 
fore he was supposed to go on, he was attacked by his usual 
state of nerves and had to hurry backstage and throw up. In 
the confusion he lost his notc.s, and he had to face about eight 
thousand people with an impromptu speech. He talked for an 
hour and a half, holding his audience so spellbound you could 
have heard a pin drop. It was then that he came out for a sec- 
ond front. 

The second front speech in New York was made under the 
auspices of the Artists Front to Win the War, which, I un- 
derstand, was considered a pink organization. Whether it was 
or not. Dad himself was never a Communist. He did sincerely 



admire Russia for her stand against Germany and felt not only 
that she should have help, but that a second front would win 
the war more quickly for us all. As usual, liis enthusiasm ran 
away with him, so that some of the J'.nglish began to complain 
he might have been a little more appreciative of the war ef- 
forts of his own homeland, while Americans thought his 
gratuitous advice a breach of etiquette, since he wasn’t a 
United States citi/xn. Still others felt he was being presump- 
tuous in trying to tell the military how to run things. On the 
other hand, there were a lot of people who agreed with him. 
It was only much later that the second front speeches were 
resurrected and, taken out of context of their times, when 
Russia was our ally, held as jtroof positive that my father was 
a Communist or fellow traveler. 

When I arrived at the Waldorf Towers I found my father 
in his suite pacing back and forth w ith his glasses on, muttering 
jihrascs to himself as he worked on his speech. He w'as nervous 
and sick again, as usual before a public appearance. Every 
now and then he would have to hurry to the bathroom. I felt 
sorrv for him. 

I couldn’t stay for the speech, since I had to get back to the 
school by curfew time. 1 was disappointed about that. I think 
I was more unhappy about not being able to stick around and 
enjoy New 'N’ork with Dad and I'im and Paulette, who was 
also in town. I thought enviousU' of all the fun they would be 
having xvhile 1 was tucked away in school. 

Actually, Dad didn’t have as much fun as 1 was imagining. 
That visit to New '\'ork became another link in the long chain 
of events that seemed to bind him to a peculiar nemesis at this 
period of his life. Miss Barry was the motivating force. 

I remember how my father used to speculate on the tragedy 
of happenstance in life. A person rakes a wrong turn or makes 
some minor move, innocuous in itself, and because of it he 
has to live the rest t)f his life with the unfortunate results of 
that irrevocable moment. After the Joan Barrx' case started 
unraveling, I thought sometimes that something of the sort 

S' 263 


had happened to iny father. Only the move he made was one 
of kindness. 

Shortly after I had gone away to school, Dad decided to 
shelve Shadow ami Substance. I le had already spent more than 
five hundred thousand dollars on the picture, bur he felt rluir 
because of Miss Barry’s unprcdicrability, he could not afford 
to launch a two- or rliree-niillion-dollar project with her as 
the star. At the same time Miss Barry, too, came ro the con- 
clusion that site was not suited for the life of an actress and 
told my father that she would like to terminate her contract 
and go back East if he w'ould pay her fare. After some im- 
portuning on Miss Barry’s part Dad had agreed. Tlirough rlic 
studio he arranged to buy two onc-v\'ay train fares for Aliss 
Barry and her mother and also settled some five hundred dol- 
lars’ worth of debts for lier so that she could leave town 

Miss Barry, with her mother, had gone East two weeks 
before Dad left to make his second front speech. My father 
supposed she was now out of his life forever. She was cer- 
tainly the last person he wished to have contact with in New 
York, and he was upset when she got in touch with him at the 
Waldorf Towers. She kept calling him up, but my father 
steadfastly refus'ed to talk to her until she told him she was 
on the twentieth floor and would throw herself out the win- 
dow if he wouldn’t sec her. This suicide threat was the first 
of several which Miss Barry made in the following months. 

When my father saw Miss Barry she told him she was 
destitute and he gave her three hundred dollars to tide her 
over. Miss Barry used the three hundred dollars to return to 
Hollywood instead. This was the basis for the Mann Act 
charge which was brought against my father, forcing him and 
the government to go through a trial that had all the at- 
tributes of a three-ring circus — though it didn’t look like a 
circus to Dad at the time, because he was faced with a prison 
term if the judgment went against him. 



Of course I didn’t know anything about it at the time. The 
first inkling my brother and I had that anything was wrong 
was during the Christmas season, when I was at home for the 
holidays. It was December 23. Syd and I, who were staying 
at Dad’s house, had been out with a bunch of the fellows. 
We returned home about two in the morning, coming around 
by the terraced lawn as we usually did to let ourselves in the 
back w.ay. When we reached the stud/ we stopped short, 
seeing tliat something was seriously amiss. 

A ladder was propped against the wall with its upper rungs 
leaning on the window sill of Dad’s room. A purse, a pair of 
women’s shoes and a pair of silk stockings lay on the grass 
at the foot of the ladder. Then we saw that the glass of the 
study door had been shattered around the handle and the 
door stood ajar, d he curtains were flapping to and fro in the 

Syd and 1 stood there a minute looking wordlessly at each 
other. I was remembering the pistol in the drawer of my 
fatlicr’s night stand. Dad’s quiet feet moving through the house 
in search of prowlers. Me had often e.xplained to Syd and 
me that if you were famous you became the target for all 
kinds of crackpots. 

“Dad’s in trouble, real trouble,” we thought. 

We went in through the door and started quietly investi- 
gating, passing from the study into the living room with its 
Oriental cabinet that held the samurai swords which had 
provided me with such comfort in my childhood. We went 
on into the hall, past the dining room, where Dr. Reynolds’ 
cadaver had once held a reign of terror in my childish im- 
agination. There was something else about now, something 
ominous. You could breathe it in the quiet of the house. Why 
was everything so still? 

We reached the stairway. There were lights above, but the 
same silence. Now we were filled with genuine alarm, not 
knowing what we would find up there. We were just going 
to investigate when suddenly Dad, whose quick car had 



caught the sound of our footsteps, appeared in the upper hall. 
Leaning over the balustrade, he looked down at us. Me had 
a bow tie on, a shirt, trousers and a smoking jacket. It was liis 
favorite attire for a comfortable cocktail party at the house. 

“What are you doing here?” he asked us sharply, as though 
his mind were not focused on us and he had not recognized 
us. Then he caught himself. 

“Oh, that’s right, you live here. I didn’t mean to . . l ie 
never wanted us to feel unwelcome at the house on the hill. 
“I’m very nervous, boys. I’ve got an important . . . Go to bed. 
Lock your door. I’ll tell you about it in the morning.” 

Dad’s manner told us he was in danger. We were worried 
about him and wanted to help, but we didn’t know e.xactly 
what to do. Everything was so mysterious. 

“What’s the matter, Dad?” I ventured to inquire. 

He shook his head brusquely. “Don’t ask questions,” he said. 
“Go to bed. I’ll tell you in the morning.” 

Syd and I hardly slept that night. We lay there whispering 
to each other, listening for sounds in the hall, wondering, 
anxious. Early the next morning Dad knocked on our door. 

“Come on downstairs, boys,” he told us. 

Syd and I came out and followed him silently down. Dad 
didn’t speak again, till we reached the living room. 

“Well, I got the gun away from her,” he said abruptly 
then, starring in the middle of his narrative. 

“Gun?” we asked, shocked, “What do you mean, gun. 

“From Joan,” he told us. 

“Oh, Miss Barry,” I said, remembering. “But what’s wrong. 

“Well, she said she would kill herself,” Dad went on in 
his strange, preoccupied way that made him tell the story in 
disjointed sentences. He was still very nervous. “Kill herself 
here and I’d be blamed for it. I have the gun.” 

He showed the gun to us. It was a small lady’s gun which, 
we learned from later newspaper accounts, she had purchased 



at the Hollywood Gun Shop before going up to Dad’s place. 

“it took me hours and hours to talk her out of doing it,” 
Dad went on. 

Me looked sad. “She’s in love with me,” he said, “and I’m 
not in love witli her. And I can’t help it. Would you boys go 
across the street and visit with your friends today?” 

Dad didn t tell us tliat Miss Barry was still in the house, but 
we could guess she was and that he wanted to get us out for 
fear we might be witnesses to another hysterical scene. We 
obeyed him without a word and went across the street to 
visit tlie Krisel brotliers. We didn’t come home until eve- 
ning. The house very (|uiet then. Dad was there. lie 
looked unha[i[))’, still sliaken and nervous. But .Miss Barry was 
gone and S\'tl ami 1 nev er saw her attain. 

My fatlier didn’t say anything more about the incident, and 
of course Syd and 1 didn’t bring it up. But during the next 
months we noticed tliat a change had come over him. 1 le was 
often sad, often preoccupied. Syd and I thought he was dis- 
turbed he was unalile to recijirocate .Miss Barry’s love. 
W’e did not know until later testimonv brought it out that 
the gun episode was only one of a series of harassments to 
which Miss Barry subjected him after she returned to Holly- 
wood from New 'N'ork. (lie w'as to testify' in court that she 
smashed in the windows of his home on four dilferent occas- 
ions and that he had to have the locks on his house changed 
four rimes because she aKvass breaking in.) It was a 
problem for w'hich he could find no solution, especially as he 
also felt sorry for .Miss Barry, who, he fully recognized by 
this time, wms a truly disturbed person. She kept doing erratic 
things such as bathing in his sprinklers fully clothed and 
driving so fast around his circular driveway that the car 
almost careened over. And there were spells when her speech 
was so incoherent she could not be understood. As I v'c said 
before, sulTering, when it manifests itself in outward symp- 
toms, affects my father, and he was affected in this w'^ay by 
Miss Barry. 


It was only six monriis until I would be eighteen and I 
knew it wouldn’t be long after that before I would be called 
for the draft. I had so short a while as a civilian tliat I didn’t 
want to waste any more of it away from home in a bo\s’ 
school, no matter how proud it in.idc my father. Syd gave 
such glowing accounts of his experiences at North I lollwood 
High that I deckled to stay home and go there too. 

I wasn’t in the new school long before I realized the change 
of atmosphere from the old days. It was the v\ ar and our 
country’s being in it that was responsible, especially where 
Dad was concerned. Never before bad his British citizenship 
been a matter for discussion among our school friends. Now 
some of them began to ask us about it rather pointedly. 


What could wc answer? We were young boys expecting 
to be called in to do our bit before it was over, and tire way 
the question was put made us feel that because our father 
wasn’t a citi/.en we, his sons, weren’t one hundred percent 
Americans. Wc found the temerity to take the matter up with 
him during our visits at his home. It was the only subject wc 
ever argued over. 

Dad gave us his customary rebuttal, which didn’t seem to 
carry much weight when we repeated it to our insistent 

“I consider myself a citizen of the world, an internation- 
alist,” he told us. “I just happen to have been born in London, 
England. It could have been Burma or China or Timbuktu, 
I’d still be the way I am. I’d keep my first citizenship because, 
being an accident of birth, it wouldn’t have any real signi- 
ficance. But wherever I live I’ll conform to the rules, laws 
and regulations of that country.” 

This was a basic conviction with my father. But later I 
came to realize that his refusal to take out citizenship papers 
was motivated by something more tlian mere conviction. To 
close friends who also were importuning him to become an 
American he had a different answer. 

“If you, as an American, were living in England earning 
your living there, even if you had lived there for years, would 
you care to renounce your United States citizenship?” he 
would ask. And when tliey remained silent he would add, 
“Well, that’s how 1 feel about k.ngland.” 

My father had still another reason for not becoming a 
United States citizen. He confessed to friends that he had a 
horror of taking the examination and, because of his faulty 
memory for dares, flunking it. I le knew that the event would 
be splashed across the pages of all the papers. The very 
thought of it made him cringe. 

Now that we were older, Syd and 1 popped in on him 
whenever we chose. Or rather Syd did so. I was still as awed 
by my father as ever, and as reticent about disturbing him 



,if his work. So I always phoned first to ask him if I mi^ht 
conic up. The Knglish servants, unused to my idiosyncrasy in 
this mmer, seemed each time to be taken by siir/irise. 

It was a strange thing about niy father and me. I loved him 
and wanted to be close to him, yet whenever 1 was with him 
alone I had the feeling, wliich had been carried over from my 
childhood, that I should be on my guard. 1 began to have 
another feeling, too, that Dad was studying me carefully, as 
though trying to figure me out. Why all this aw'c, this linger- 
ing formality.? his eyes seemed to be asking. But one day I 
learned there was another reason for his quizzical appraisal. 

“You know,” he suddenly exclaimed in astonishment, “I 
can see a lot of me in you. My God, you are like me, your 
gestures . . . everything.” 

Much I must have inherited from liim. Perhaps as much I 
had picked up from him, from the long, close association of 
my childhood when, following him around, I had wanted 
more than anything else to be like him. And now his words 
marked the fruition of that dream. I felt it was the greatest 
compliment 1 had ever received. 

However, that winter and spring of ’43 my father had more 
to occupy his mind than a study of his sons. 7\vo .skeins, one 
bright, one dark, were being woven into his life. The dark one 
was Miss Barry, whom I had met the summer before and who 
had been an unseen but disturbing visitor at our home the 
December just past. The bright one I was now about to meet. 

Oona O’Neill! Her name sounds like a spring breeze — as 
ethereal, as lovely as the girl herself. She is the daughter of 
the famous playwright Eugene O’Neill, and she is exactly my 
age, even to the month — the month of May. 7 he previous 
spring she had been cafe society’s Debutante Number One in 
the Stork Club. She had taken her Vassar entrance examina- 
tions but had decided against college because she was in- 
terested in a screen career. So .she had come out to Hollywood 



instead, where her mother and stepfather were living, and 
had met Dad some time that November. 

Minna Wallis, a good friend of Tim Durant’s, was giving 
a dinner party, a foursome to which she was inviting my 
father and I'im. She thought it would be nice to include 
Oona, because I'im Durant’s father had been a good friend 
of f'ugenc O’Neill’s. Tim himself had been somewhat ac- 
quainted with the playwright and was interested in meeting 
his daughter. It looked as though it would be an interesting 
evening all around, because in his earlier days Eugene O’Neill 
had ex[)rcssed great admiration for my father and his com- 
edies, and my father was as great an admirer of Eugene 
O’Neill and his tragedies. So Oona and Dad met and that was 
the beginning of e\eryrhing. 

I first saw Oona at one of Dad’s open-house teas. She had 
come up with Tim Durant and Tim’s young daughter, Mar- 
jorie, to play tennis. Neither Syd nor I linked Oona’s name 
with that of the great playwright. We just saw her as a pretty 
girl who was completely different from the ordinary run of 
1 lollywood glamor. She was always herself — quiet, quick to 
be amused but never ostentatious, with an almost elfin quality 
about her that appealed to us immensely. She was very at- 
tractive in an offbeat way — her slender, long-stemmed figure, 
the way she wore her straight black hair, the brooding look 
in her dark eyes that could so quickly sparkle with an in- 
ward humor. She was shy and yet there was a calm about her, 
a nati\ e sweetness that drew Syd and me to her. We thought 
it would be nice to know her better. 

Oona didn’t play tennis, at least not well. I didn’t play at 
all, and though Sydney could play a good game, he was 
more interested in Oona than tennis. She was friendly but 
shy. When we joked with her she would reply with the bash- 
ful good humor of a child. But just when she seemed most 
naive, she would catch us off guard with a quick pertinent 
remark that would make us realise, almost ruefully, how in- 



tclligent, even deep she was, how much more mature in many 
ways than we were. 

During those first weeks Syd and I engaged in a friendly 
unspoken rivalry to see which one of us would be the first to 
get a date with Oona. After several weeks we compared 

“You have eyes for Oona, I see it,” Syd said to me jok- 

“You do too, Syd,” I countered. 

“It won’t do us any good. Chuck,” Syd said, “because 
Oona has eyes for Dad. We might as well lay off.” 

That was true, and it was so obvious that there was no use 
hiding from the fact any longer. AVhenever Oona w as with 
our father a rapt expression would conic into her eyes. She 
would sit quietly, hanging on his cverj^ word. Most women 
are charmed by Dad, but in Oona’s case it was different. She 
worshiped him, drinking in every word he spoke, whether it 
was about his latest script, the weather or some bit of philo- 
sophy. She seldom spoke, but every now and then siie would 
come up with one of those penetrating remarks that im- 
pressed even our father with her insight. 

“Oh, a lovely girl,” he v/ould say. lie would commit him- 
self no further in words, but that was unnecessary. The ex- 
pression on his face told us plainly that he was as fascinated by 
Oona as she was by him. 

During the next months Oona and her mother were fre- 
quent visitors at my father’s home, where he had begun giving 
Oona dramatic lessons to help her fulfill her dream of being 
an actress. Oona wasn’t getting any cncQuragcmcnt along this 
line from her father, who was at the rime living near San 
Francisco. According to all accounts, he had almost com- 
pletely alienated himself from her because of her interest in 
the stage. But even before that he couldn’t have been very 
close to her or seen much of her, for he had separated from 
her mother when Oona was only two. 

It was far more, however, than a teachcr-pupil relationship 



between Dad and Oona. Presently he began going out with 
her openly and the gossip columns started speculating on 
whether it would end in a fourth marriage for liim. 

Then things began to break. In the early part of June, Joan 
Barry gave a statement to the press saying that she was ex- 
pecting a child and that it was my father’s. My father re- 
sponded with a counterstatement that he was not responsible 
for jMiss Barry’s condition, that she had first approached him 
in May with her accusation, together with a demand for a 
settlement, and that he had promptly rejected it. 

l iin Durant, who acted as middleman in the case, told me 
that her offer to settle was bona fide, that the lawyer who 
came to him with the terms was a prominent and honest 
attorney. I'im, who could see from the start all the conse- 
(piences of a public airing, had entreated my father to make 
a settlement. 

“Even if you win you’re going to lose,” he said. “You’re a 
famous man, so it will be spread all over. And you’ve got a 
duty to more than yourself — your two boys, if nothing else. 
Don’t get mixed up in it.” 

But my father wouldn’t hear of compromise. 

“No, I’m in the right,” he said. “If I settle now they’ll come 
back for more. I’ll be hounded the rest of inv life. I am not 
the father of the child. If it had my blood in its veins ymu 
know I would take care of it.” 

I’m sure my father was sincere about this, simply because 
blood ties have always been so important to him. 1 don’t 
believe, either, that money was the prime reason for his re- 
jection of the settlement offer. I know he has a reputation for 
being close with a dollar, bur even then he must have realized 
that the costs of a legal battle, if it came to that, would 
amount to far more than an out-of-court settlement. He was 
only indignant he was innocent. It was all part of the 
strain of stubborn integrity which runs through him and 
which is such an admirable and exasperating characteristic. 


my father 

After Joan Barry’s accusation it was Just as Tim Durant 
had warned. The papers had a Roman holiday with the story. 
Joan Barry’s visit to my father with her gun on the twenty- 
third of December was thoroughly aired, and I learned from 
the papers of his second ill-advised charitable act to her. The 
previous January Aliss Barry had been discovered by tlie 
police wandering along Olympic Boulevard in a man’s bath- 
robe and a pair of slippers and was arrested on a charge of 
vagrancy and jailed. 

(Ten years later, in 1953, Miss Barry was again picked up 
w^andering around barefoot and in a dazed condition in for- 
rance, California. At that time she was taken to the psycho- 
pathic ward of Harbor General Hospital for observation and 
then released. A few hours later she was found wandering 
about the same place and was returned to the hospital, where 
she was examined by Dr. V. J. Miller, a staff psychiatrist. He 
described her as a schizophrenic with a very well-organized 
delusional pattern. The prominent characteristic of this seri- 
ous mental ailment is that the sufferer lives in a world of 
fantasy, believing it to be absolutely real. Miss Barry herself 
realized her need for treatment and her mother signed com- 
mitment papers. She was then committed by Superior Court 
Judge William P. Haugliton to the state mental hospital at 

Bur the fact that Miss Barry might have been suffering 
from incipient schizophrenia at the time of her first arrest in 
1943 didn’t occur to the Beverly Hills police. It was just a 
routine case to them. Judge Charles J. Griffin of the Beverly 
Hills Police Court, who heard her case, suspended sentence 
on condition she leave town permanently. 

While in jail Miss Barry had been allowed one phone call 
and had made it to Robert Arden, a radio commentator w ho 
was a friend of my father, with whom Arden got in touch 
at once. Through Mr. Arden my father offered to pay all 
Miss Barry’s debts and to provide her with a train ticket to 
her former home in the East. Miss Barry accepted the offer 



and was escorted to the train I)y Police Captain W. W. White. 

I'his gratuitous deed of charity on my father’s part was to 
cost him dear. Me was to be indicted with six others — Tim 
Durant; Robert Arden; Police Lieutenant Claude iMarpIe, who 
locked up Miss Parry; Judge Griffin; Captain White; and 
Mrs. Jessie Ibllie Reno, part-time police matron. They were 
all to be arraigned for violating Miss Barry’s civil rights by 
conniving to give her a “floater” sentence. The penalty for 
such a violation is two years’ imprisonment, a ten-thousand- 
dollar fine or both. 

Atiss Barry went only halfwav across the countr\^; she 
turned back at Omaha and reappeared in Bevcrlv Mills. She 
broke into my father’s home again. In desperation he had the 
police called and again Miss Barrv was jailed, d'his time she 
w^as given a nincr\ -day sentence. My father, who could never 
bear the thought of jails, interfered once more by sending an 
attorney, (Jecil 1). Molland, who has since become a judge, 
to intercede for her. She had been five davs in jail then 
and had made her |)regnant condition known, but she had nor 
yet publicly blamed my father for it. 

As soon as Mr. 1 lolland Icarm'd that Miss Barry was ac- 
cusing my father, he withdrew from representing her, though 
he obtained her release from jail so that she could go to a sani- 
tarium. It w as at this time that John J. Irwin took over the 
chore of representing Miss Barry in her paternity suit against 
my father. 

These were the events that fomied the turbulent back- 
ground of the (diaplin fortunes that late May and early sum- 
mer. l'\ ery^thing was in a state of confusion, w ith investiga- 
tions right and left. Even Oona w^as questioned, but she was 
able to say she knew nothing about Miss Barry. As for her- 
self, she and her mother w^erc just good friends of my father’s. 
But Syd and I wxre his sons and so it w'as natural that, as Tim 
Durant had predicted, \vc should be sucked into the middle of 
everything. We wxre ordered one day to report to the district 
attorney’s office for questioning. 



That session came as a shock to us both. We loved our 
father. It wasn’t just that he had been good to us. It was also 
that he was our father, whatever he did. It’s hard to explain 
it, but we feel a definite and very strong loyalty toward him. 
We would have done anything, even lied, to protect him, 
though it might have meant jail for us. But it wasn’t necessary. 
Me had never done anything out of the way. W'e had been at 
his home anv number of week ends and had never witnessed 
any wild orgies. We had never seen any women staying there 
with him. I couldn’t remember his even kissing anyone except 
Paulette in front of us. 

T he investigator in the district attorney’s office didn’t stop 
with the gun episode. From that he went on to embarrassingly 
intiinarc questions about our fatlter, carefully putting them 
in a roundabout way so that, without his saving things in so 
many words, we would know what he meant. We couldn’t 
believe our ears. He was asking us to testify about our father’s 
morals! I was furious. 

“What right have you to ask such questions?” I demanded. 
‘About my own father! 1 don’t have to answer you.” 

But of course in the end I did. “No, I liaven’t seen any- 
thing,” 1 told him. “No women's clothes in his closets. No 
women staying in hjs house. Nothing!” 

Syd was as vehement as I. We left the district attorney’s 
office feeling a sense of shame and outrage. For a while we 
couldn’t even look at each other. 

Meanwhile Miss Barry’s lawyers, who had filed suit for her 
in Superior Court, came to an agreement with my father’s 
lawyers. In California, laws ha\ ing to do with divorce and 
paternity cases are extremely partial to women. (Some well- 
informed people believe that this is because they’ve scarcely 
been modernized since 1849, when they were promulgated in 
an effort to entice the female sex to the state.) A woman’s 
mere accusation that a man is the father of her child is suffi- 
cient grounds in California for forcing him to support both 
her and the child until the paternity suit is settled. Whatever 



the outcome of the trial, the money paid out during the 
interim need never be refunded. 

Since my father had been formally accused by Miss Barry, 
he had no other recourse but to comply with the law, and it 
was arranged that he pay one hundred dollars a week tem- 
porary support and twenty-five hundred dollars immediately 
for Miss Barry’s care. Added to this, forty-six hundred dollars 
was to be paid in installments for medical expenses. My 
father’s lawyers, however, were able to get a stipulation that 
the child be submitted to medical tests five months after its 
birth to determine its paternity. If two of three physicians 
found negatively for my father, the suit was to be dismissed. 
Until such time as the matter was cleared up, the Chaplin 
name was not to be used on the child’s birth certificate. This 
agreement, which was approved by Superior Court Judge 
William S. Baird, was signed by my father and his attorney, 
Loyd Wright, and by Miss Barry, her mother, Mrs. Gertrude 
Berry, and their attorneys, headed by John J. Irwin. 

Since the beginning of June, my father, to escape reporters 
and possible process servers, had been hiding out on Layton 
Drive in West Los Angeles at the home of his good friend, 
Eugene Frenke, the well-known movie producer, and his 
wife, Anna Sten. To avoid further gossip Oona had been 
coming secretly to visit him there, .sometimes spending the 
night at Anna Sten’s invitation. Throughout that whole time 
the Frenkes were feeding Dad, and sometimes Oona, at a 
sacrifice to themselves, for they had to use up their precious 
ration stamps on their guests. 

It was at the Frenke home that mv father and Oona revised 
their marriage plans. Previously they had set the date for the 
first of June, when Oona should have passed her eighteenth 
birthday and would no longer need parental consent. Her 
mother, to whom she had confessed her love for my father, 
had approved the marriage from the first. But Oona had good 
reason to believe that her father, who had opposed her acting 
career so vehemently, would feel the same way about her 



marriage to Dad, who was at that time embroiled in such a 
widely publicized scandal. 

The Barry case, with its promise of protracted litigation, 
had upset cverj'thing. There were two schools of opinion 
about the course to follow under the circumstances. Tim 
Durant felt my father should send Oona back East until the 
scandal blew over, so that she would not be involved in it. 
But Oona herself stood up against this suggestion. 

“When a man is in trouble, the woman he loves and who 
loves him should be by his side,” she said. 

So they decided upon an elopement, setting the date for the 
sixteenth of June. The night before they left, Oona went to 
see the Frenkes. 

“Gene and Anna, tomorrow I’m going to marry Charlie 
Chaplin,” she said, speaking almost reverently. “Thank you 
so much for everything. As soon as I marry, you’ll get all 
your ration coupons back.” 

But Frenke maintains the forgetful young bride never kept 
her word. “Oh, I forgave them long ago,” he says with a 
laugh today. “But Anna, my wife, she’s so straightforward, 
not compromising at all! To this day she can’t forgive Charlie 
for those ration coupons.” 

My father and Oona drove up to Santa Barbara with 
Catherine Hunter, my father’s secretar)^ and the late Harry 
Crocker, the newspaper columnist. They arrived at the Santa 
Barbara courthouse a little before nine in the morning. My 
father and Oona entered separately, my father seeming to be 
amused at first by all the secrecy, which was so much like his 
own brand of comedy. But when he entered the clerk’s office 
the amusement faded and he became just another flustered 
bridegroom, fussing at his tie and picking imaginary flecks 
from his brown suit. He forgot to remove his hat, and when 
he went to sign his name his hand shook so he could hardly 
hold the pen. 

Perhaps he was suddenly realizing he was letting himself in 
for a fourth marriage after the first three had ended so dis- 



astrously. Oona, on the contrary, was animated and happy. 
Though she was just eighteen and shy and quiet, where my 
father was concerned she knew her own mind from the start. 

When the clerk asked Oona for her birth certificate, my 
father, who was fifty-four at the time, looked alarmed. 

“Gosh, do 1 have to liave one of those with me?” he asked. 

They had to explain to him that it was only to prove Oona 
was of age; she looked so young. As soon as the license was 
made out, my father grabbed it without a word, leaving Mr. 
Crocker to attend to tlie two-dollar fee. 

They drove on to the nearby town of Carpintcria, where 
the wedding took place in the home of Justice of the Peace 
Clinton Pancoast Moore, who was a seventy-eight-year-old 
retired Methodist minister. By coincidence, he turned out to 
be a fonner neighbor, having once lived just around the corner 
from my fatlier in Beverly 1 lills. I hroughout the brief cere- 
mony my father and Oona clasped hands. Then Harry 
Crocker handed my father the simple gold wedding band he 
had bought the day before. He slipped it on Oona’s finger and 
they were pronounced man and wife. My father gave Oona 
a quick kiss and accepted the marriage certificate from Mr. 
Moore. It wasn’t until he gf)t outside and looked at it that 
he saw it was made out to Chapman. It w^as the same name 
that had appeared years before on the telegram which first 
summoned my father to w ealth and fame in Hollyw’ood. He 
dashed back and asked Mr. Moore to change it. 

When Aliss Barry heard about the w edding she wxnt into 
hysterics, but by the time my father and Oona returned from 
their two-w'eek honeymoon in Santa Barbara everything had 
simmered down. Dad was able to bring his new' bride in 
comparative peace to his house on the hill, and suddenly that 
house was a home again because there w^as a w oman in it. 



All that summer of 1943 I was only marking time, like so 
many other boys my age. Like Oona, I had passed my eigh- 
teenth birthday, and I was waiting for Uncle Sam to tap me 
on the shoulder. I had graduated from high school, bur under 
the circumstances it would have been ridiculous even to think 
of entering college. So I just lived it up, taking girls to shows 
and parties and stuffing myself on rich malts. I wasn’t yet 
smoking or drinking. 

I got my greetings from Uncle Sam on October 7. Syd and 
my girl friend saw me off on the streetcar. Syd told me later 
he cried after I left. I’ve never seen Syd cry in my life and 
this is the only time I’ve ever heard of his doing so. 

When I arrived at Fort MacArthur I was shown in by my 



Stepfather, Arthur Day, who had been drafted and was there 
ahead of me as an M.P. After a few weeks I was transferred 
from Fort MacArthur to Camp Haan, near Riverside. I was 
one of the two youngest soldiers in the outfit and I looked it. 
I wanted to prove I was a man, so, because I could speak 
French fluently, I volunteered for O.S.S. duty. F.ver\^one 
advised me against it because the chances of coming back 
alive from that branch of the service were practically nil, if 
you could even survive the training. 

But the hero bit had got me, so 1 rook all the examinations 
and passed them. I thought I was headed for the life of a spv, 
but the Colonel turned me down because at a hundred and 
thirty-five |K)unds I was considered underweight for my 
height, 1 had to content myself with growing a mustache to 
appear more mature. I began to smoke as well and to drink 
3.2 beer at the PX, because I thought drinking made a man 
of me. Besides, there was nothing else to do. I felt at loose 
ends, alone and homesick, separated from Syd and all my 
family, learning the hard work of war. 

I'hen one day, passing the recreation room. I heard music 
and hurried in. A young man about twenty-three years old 
was at the piano tinkling it, and he had music in his finger- 
tips. I went up and began talking to him and then we intro- 
duced ourselves. I le was Stan Keyava and he had come from 
the sleepy little town of Chico in Northern California. FTe 
was the oldest of seven children, he told me, and he’d been 
playing in a band in San Francisco before he had been drafted. 

Stan and I became buddies. The first week-end pass I got I 
took him to Hollywood. Stan and my father spent about 
two hours that afternoon they met discussing music. But Dad 
didn’t keep it at that. Before it was all over he had drawn 
everything possible out of Stan about his mother and father, 
his six brothers and sisters and all his relatives. My father, who 
had never had a real home life of his own, was curious about 
what it was like in a big family, a knowledge which later he 
was to acquire first hand. 



By rhc time Snin iirul I rook our leave Dad was treatinir 
him like old home folks, even urging him to bring his mother 
md fiirher up ro see him when fhev came to row'fi. After dm 
Stan came often with me to the house on the lull. 

Though Dad Jikes to call himself the world's foremost 
peacemonger, he was proud I was in uniform, fic always 
lectured me about taking my duties seriously. I never left for 
camp that he didn’t put his arm around me and give me a pep 

“Charlie,” he would say, “I want you to be a good soldier. 
If you don’t do anything else be a good soldier.” 

But, my father’s conception of the life of a soldier was as 
unrealistic in many ways as his portrayal of it in Shoulder 
Anm^ his early satire on war. lie was always warning me 
about sleeping on the cold ground in the open, which he said 
would give me pneumonia, as if I had any choice in the mat- 
ter. He was horrified at Stan’s and my descriptions of our 
infiltration courses. \Vhen we told how we had to crawl 
under barbed wire with machine guns raking the air just 
thirty inches off the ground he was deeply concerned. But he 
couldn’t refrain from getting in a little wry humor about it 

“Do be careful, .boys,” he always cautioned us whenever 
we took our leave. “Be sure to keep your tails down!” 

That fall there was sadness in my life, too. My mother, 
alone now that kindly Arthur Day was in the army, went 
into her second nervous breakdown — a breakdow^n that was 
to be the main cause of her separation from Arthur in 1948. 
Again she becalne pitifully thin and dazed. Sometimes she 
was filled with such despair that she would think of suicide. 
But her old fear of my father was a thing of the past. One day 
in the midst of a black mood she phoned him and begged him 
to sec her to discuss our future, Syd’s and mine, because she 
was sure she would soon be dying. 

It was five years since my father had last seen my mother — 
at my bedside in the hospital when I had had my appendix 



removed— but he drove out to her at once. He took her for 
a long ride, giving her advice, trying to comfort her and cheer 
her up. Hiat week end he told me about it when I came with 
Stan to see him. 

“I saw your mother the other day. She’s a pretty sick girl,” 
he explained. y\nd suddenly I remembered he had said almost 
the same words to me when I was a child, perhaps now, as 
then, trying to help me understand how things were with her. 
“She was rather suicidal and very dramatic. I tried to make 
her realize that however dark things look they always work 

My father paused, and then a wistful expression came over 
his face. I le seemed to have retreated into old memories, 
memories in which I, his son, had no active part. 

“I always thought your mother was the most beautiful girl 
I’ve ever known,” he suddenlv added softly. 

Later my mother, too,’ talked to me about her last visit with 
my father. One remark of his stood out most clearly in her 
mind and w as, perhaps, to make up to her for much of the 
grief of that first unhappy marriage. She said she had told him 
she was sorry things had started the way they had and had 
ended as they had between them. In reply my father had 
turned and looked at her a long while. 

“If it w ill make vou feel any better, Lita,” he had said, “I’d 
like you to know there are only two women Vve ever realiv 
loved in my life — you and the girl I’m married to now.” 

Yes, Dad really loved Oona. l'ver\'()ne w ho saw' them to- 
gether noticed that. She w as different from his three fonner 
waves. Wdien she married my father she gave up all thought 
of acting, though success in that quarter w'as already w ithin 
her grasp. I'ugene Frenke, who had her under contract, 
wamted her to play an important role with his wife in A Girl 
\rovi hciiiu^^vad. My father felt Oona should have her chance 
because of her extraordinary photogenic qualities, but he w'as 
pleased w^hen Oona asked Frenke to release her from the 
contract. She had come to 1 lollywood to make a career for 



herself, but now that she was married to my father that was 
career enough for her. I never heard her voice any regret that 
that marriage was responsible for severing her last connection 
with her father. I asked Dad once whether Eugene O’Neill 
ever got in touch with him. 

“Oh, we don’t talk,” he answered laconically, and that was 
a//. I never heard either him or Oona discuss luigcne O’Neill 
peiSOnaWy, though sometimes my father would speak admir- 
ingly of his writing. Being an artist himself he never let 
grudges or alienations stand in the way of his appreciating a 
work of art. And I think this was all he ever really asked for 
himself from anyone. 

From the first Oona had some magical touch about her 
where my father was concerned! Paulette had fought for 
years to get rid of those button-top shoes. They just quietly 
disappeared when Dad started dating Oona, and Tve never 
seen them since. 

There were a lot of other changes, too, subtle changes 
which are hard to describe. But they told me who had watched 
him so carefully for so many years that my father was happy 
for the first time in his life, that he felt security at last in a 
woman’s love, I heard him put it into words for rim Durant 
late one afternoon down at the tennis house. 

“If only I had known Oona or a girl like her long ago,” he 
said, and there was a tinge of wistfulness in his voice, “1 would 
never have had any problems with women. All my life I 
have been waiting for her without even realizing it until I 
met her.” 

That fall was a comparatively peaceful period for the 
Chaplin family. The paternity suit Joan Barry had brought 
against my father was in abeyance. Idiere wasn’t even much 
stir when, in October, Miss Barry gave birth to a baby girl 
whom she named Carol Ann. But things were building up 
from another direction. Sometime that summer or fall, friends 
of Miss Barry filed two serious complaints against my father 



with the federal attorney general’s office. The first was that 
he had contrived to deprive her of her civil rights when he 
bought her a ticket for the East following her arrest for va- 
grancy. The second was that he had violated the Mann Act, 
the “white slavery” act, by conveying her across state lines 
for immoral purposes, because he had paid her fare to New 
York and, ostensibly, back again, since she had used his 
money to return to Hollywood. 

Acting on orders from Washington, the FBI performed its 
routine duty by investigating the matter and rounding up evi- 
dence. By January a do/.en or so witnesses, including Miss 
Barry, were called in to testify before a federal grand jury. 
From then on until April, when the case was resolved, my 
father’s private life made sensational headlines around the 
world, as it had at the time of my mother’s divorce. Even 
soldiers at the front were kept informed by bulletins in army 

On Febinary 1 1, my father and the six others implicated in 
the alleged conspiracy to deprive Miss Barrv' of her civil 
rights were fomially indicted. Except for Police Judge 
Charles J. Griffin and Police Captain W. W. Mdiite, who 
were released on their own recogniz.ance, bonds were fixed at 
one thousand dollars each. In addition, my father was separ- 
ately indicted for violation of the Mann Act. If he were con- 
victed of all the charges he could be sentenced to a minimum 
of twenty-three years in prison and a fine of twenty-sLx 
thousand dollars. 

It was no wonder he appeared white and tense when on 
February 1 1 ; he arrived at the Federal Building accompanied 
by Jerry Gicsler, the famous Los Angeles attorney whom he 
had retained to handle his case. All the way to the fifth floor, 
women clerks kept popping out of doors to get a look at my 
father. In the U.S. Marshal’s office the usual battery of cameras 
was waiting. Light bulbs flashed and shutters clicked as Dad’s 
fingers were pressed, one at a time, into the ink pad and then 
on a card. When it was over my father walked to the wash 



bowl and scrubbed his hands under the concentrated ap- 
praisal of a crowd of federal employees who had gathered to 
watch the show. 

When he went to the booking desk to sign his arrest card, 
he kept trying to dip his pen into the capped ink bottle, finally 
realized his mistake and suddenly smiled. It was his only 
recognition of the latent comedy in the situation. He tucked 
away that fingerprinting scene, and later, so I hear, used it 
down to the last detail in his picture. The King in New York. 

The trial itself started in late March and lasted ten days. 
United States Attorney Charles H. Carr acted as prosecutor 
and Federal Judge J. F. T. O’Connor was on the bench. Miss 
Barry’s testimony was so lurid at times that my father sat 
through it flushed with embarrassment. She described in rich 
and imaginative detail the bedroom scene that she maintained 
took place in the New York hotel room when my father went 
East to make his speech. There was more imaginative and in- 
timate detail to the scene she described at our house when she 
confronted my father with a gun. 

When my father took the stand he denied emphatically that 
either scene had taken place. He gave the whole history of his 
relations with Miss Barry, frankly acknowledging that at one 
time he had been 'romantically involved with her. But he 
maintained this had all come to an end with his shelving of 
Shadow and Substance and her departure from Hollywood. 

When he told his version of the gun episode and came to 
Syd’s and my arrival on the scene, his voice broke as he de- 
scribed how he had talked to us while Miss Barry held the gun 
in the archway. Some reporters thought his acting at this 
point superb. I, as his son, know it was a genuine emotion; 
only Syd and I were ever aware of how deeply embarrassed 
he was when he slipped in the role of being a proper father. 

Except for the two lurid bedroom scenes which Miss Barry 
described, and which my father swore from the witness stand 
never took place, her relation of events agreed quite consist- 
ently with my father’s. And Mr. Giesler adroitly raised the 
question of who had been chasing whom in the romance. 



Other people were caught in the glare of notoriety. A 
writer and a multiniillionaire oil tycoon were called to the 
witness stand. The writer admitted going out with Miss Barry 
and being occasionally visited by her in his apartment. (At 
the later paternity trial his landlady was to testify that Miss 
Barry confided to her that she considered him a genius and 
that she was in love with him.) The millionaire also said he 
had seen Miss Barry frequently in Los Angeles, and in Tulsa, 
Oklahoma, where she had gone in November of 1942, almost 
immediately following her return to Hollywood from New 
York on my father’s three hundred dollars. (She also visited 
Tulsa in early January of 1943.) Canceled checks proved that 
a number of her outstanding bills had been paid by a Tulsa 
law firm that numbered the millionaire among its clients. (At 
a subseejuent trial Miss Barry was to testify that the million- 
aire took care of her bill at the Mayo Hotel in Tulsa while 
she was there.) 

One witness testified about a weird odyssey Miss Barry 
made on the night and early morning of December 30 and 31, 
during which he acted as her chauffeur for part of the time. 
It began at eight o’clock when Miss Barry went to the Players 
restaurant with the writer and there saw my father and intro- 
duced the two men. She and the writer left the restaurant 
together but separated outside, Miss Barry going on to the 
witness’s apartment, where the writer joined her shortly 
afterwards. But her escort left almost immediately and her 
volunteer chauireur drove Miss Barry around a good part of 
the night trying to find him for her. When Miss Barry fell 
asleep in the car, he returned to his own apartment, left her 
outside and went in for a nap. 

He came out after an hour or so to find Miss Barry lying 
on the sidewalk. He helped her up, saw that she was dizzy. 
Her speech was incoherent, her stockings torn, and she had a 
scratch on her forehead. She asked him to drive her to my 
father’s place, which he did, leaving her there. According to 
Miss Barry my father drove her to the Beverly Hills police 
station. I can see why, after the gun incident which had so 



;iI;irnicTi him, he should seek rhe pioreerion of rhe law. l?ut he 
did nor sign a coinplainr. Miss Barry turned herself in. 

Police Lieurenant Claude Marple, on duty at the time, saivl 
that iMiss Bany was hysterical, liad been drinking, hut w asn’t 
dnink. I Ic noticed nothing unusual about her appearance. She 
was wrapped in a long silver-fo.x coat. The rime was one 
thirty in the morning. At her own request, Marple drove her 
to the writer’s apartment and left her. The writer himself 
testified that when he saw her she w'as disheveled and her 
dress was soiled, as though she had been lying in the dirt. 
There w'^as blood on her head. Her stockings w'ere torn and 
she was bleeding at both knees. The heel of one shoe was 
missing. He evoked a titter in court by saying that she w'as 
“in one of her states,” indicating that he had seen her before 
in this condition. 

That December 3 1 in his apartment. Miss Barry had painted 
her lips with ioditie to simulate suicide and was taken by am- 
bulance to the receiving hospital. It w'as shortly thereafter 
that she was found wandering on Olympic Boulevard, was 
booked at the Beverly Hills jail on the vagrancy charge, and 
received my father’s ill-fated monetaiy^ assistance. 

I go into these details, not to dredge up the unhappy past 
for its own sake, but to show the profound emotional turmoil 
of this apparently very ill girl wTo held my father’s fate in 
her hands, and also to give some idea, at least, of the atmo- 
sphere of sensationalism that enveloped the Chaplin family 
at this period of their lives. It was as though a gigantic spot- 
light were trained on every move we made during those 

There was always an atmosphere of tension at the house on 
the hill. When Stan and I went up on week ends now we 
often found Jerry Giesler sitting in one of the rattan chairs 
in the study. He was very calm, but Dad would be pacing 
back and forth, back and forth, as he docs when agitated. 
Every now and then he would hurry over and tug at Giesler’s 
coat and anxiously ask him about some point. 



“Oh don’t worry about it, Charlie,” Gieslcr would answer, 
talking in the slow, comfortable tones of a father confessor. 
“JiLst let me get it all straight and I’ll take care of everything.” 

Presently Giesler would rise to his feet and take a few 
strides in that relaxed manner of his, while my father would 
sit down and try to be calm. But he always looked as though 
he were just about to explode. Dad was concerned not only 
over himself but about Syd and me, who, as his sons, .shared 
the spotlight with him. Every time Stan and I left. Dad would 
come over and put his hand anxiously on Stan’s shoulder. 

“Whatever you do, please keep Charlie out of the papers,” 
he would beg. “Don’t let him get out of line by a single step 
or they’ll tear him to pieces.” 

Stan took his part seriouslv and almost ran himself ragged 
playing nursemaid to me. I Ic kejit guard over every' glass of 
beer 1 drank at the I’X and tried to eensor all my conversa- 
tions, for fear a brawl might start and I would be implicated. 
Sometimes he even had niglitmares about it. 

But it turned out to be Syd instead who .dmost made the 
papers. It was a Saturday nigiir and I had come in alone from 
camp and was staying at Nana’s jilace. Syd was living with a 
friend. I le had been sick in be<l, l)ur when our former school- 
mate, George i''ngltmd, who today is one of our better young 
film producers, dropped by to sec him, Syd suddenly found 
he had a yen for a hamburger and a malt. lie got out of bed, 
j»ut on an old sweater and a pair of slacks, and didn’t bother to 
comb his hair. George himself wasn’t exactly dressed for a 
party. 1 le had on a sweater and slacks, too, and he hadn’t 
shaved. They looked like a couple of bums in search of 
handouts. But they didn’t think it would matter because they 
didn’t exjtect to run into anyone. 

They went to a drive-in and were ordering their food when 
suddenly a squad car rolled up into the lot. A policeman got 
out of the car and pulled his gun and motioned Syd and 
George over. Without a word of explanation he clapped 
handcuffs on them and ordered them into the back scat of the 



squad car. When they asked what it was all about they were 
told tersely to shut up. 

Suddenly the whole thing became very amusing to Syd, 
who couldn’t resist hamming it up just as he had in school. 

“I’m not going to talk until I get my mouthpiece,’’ he pro- 
claimed. “I don’t want to fry in the chair,’’ 

The policemen looked put out and George nudged Syd to 
be quiet. They drove on for a while witln)ut talking. I hen 
the policeman who was driving ventured some infonnation. 

“A woman’s been attack-ted down the street here a ways,’’ 
he said. 

“She’s been attack-re^/.'”’ my purist brother mimicked glee- 

The policeman glared at him, and it was in that frame of 
mind that they came to the woman’s house. She was lying 
stretched out on the couch, .screaming hystcricallv, with 
friends gathered all around her trying to comfort her. Syd, 
who had forgotten how he looked in his old sweater with his 
thick black hair on end, was sure she’d see at once that he 
was the wrong person. The woman took only one look. 

“That’s the man,’’ she yelled, pointing at him. 

Syd turned white. It’t a laughing matter anv more. 
He’d been identified. They took him down and locked him 

I got a call about three thirty or four in the morning. It 
was Syd. 

“Chuck,” he said mattcr-of-factly, “they got me down here 
in jail on a rape charge.” 

I waited but he didn’t say any more. 

“Well, did you do it.^” I asked at last, imbued as I was with 
the spirit of my father’s trial. 

“What do you mean, did I do it?” Syd demanded indig- 
nantly. “It’s a mistaken-identity thing. Contact Dad.” 

So I had to beard my father, who had enough troubles of 
his own. I waited until six o’clock and then dashed up to see 
him, I remembered how in my childhood my father had cn- 



joyed staying in bed until eleven or twelve o’clock. But he 
wasn’t sleeping during the Mann Act trial. I found him already 
downstairs in his robe, pacing back and forth, talking to him- 
self in a monotone, rehearsing what he was going to say in 
court that day. 

“Dad,” I said tentatively. 

“Don’t bother me now, son,” he answered. “Can’t you see 
I’m very busy? I haven’t been able to sleep. This trial and 
everything . . .” 

“Well, Dad, this is very important,” I insisted. 

He didn’t answer. He seemed to have forgotten me. He 
went on pacing back and forth, talking to himself. The day 
was drawing on and Syd was still in jail. I got desperate. 

Dad,” I said more loudly, “they have Syd in jail on a 
mistaken-ititntity rape charge.” 

“Well,” Dad said, not really hearing me yet, but just incor- 
porating my information info his own line of thought, “I’ll get 
liim Gieslcr. I’ll take care of it.” 

“But, Dad, he’s innocent!” I almost shouted. 

“I don’t care, son,” Dad answered. “W e’ll rake . . .” Sud- 
denly he did a double-take, stopped short and glared at me. 

“Rape!” he shouted. “Mistaken identity! Innocent!” 

I Ic was more furious than I’d ever seen him in my life. It 
was as though his taut nerves had suddenly snapped. 

“My God,” he shouted, gesticulating in different directions 
at the same time, “if that even gets into the newspapers I’ll sue 
the whole bloody police department. I’ll sue every paper. Even 
if it’s a fact I’ll still sue. Mistaken-identity rape! They’ll never 
see the mistaken-identity part. They’ll look at the word rape. 
Do you realize what that means, son? Why, they’ll take the 
whole Chaplin family and tar and feather them and ride them 
out of town on rails.” 

Finally my father got down to phoning. Meanwhile, around 
eight that morning, the woman came to the jail to make a more 
specific identification. She took one look. 

“I’m sorry, this isn’t the fellow after all,” she said. 



Shortly afterwards Syd walked nonchalantly in on us. But 
my father’s phoning had its effect. That story didn’t make the 
papers. It’s never been told until this day. 

On April 4, after five hours and one minute of deliberation, 
the seven women and five men of the jury declared my father 
innocent of the Mann Act charge. One of the jurors, Rowan 
T. Segner, a Pasadena banker, said later that the consensus had 
been that my father was motivated by kindness alone when 
he gave Miss Barry and her mother the train tickets to New 
York and the money later on. 

Now that the ordeal was over, my father had difficulty 
holding back his tears. He kept fumbling with his Adam’s 
apple and fussing with the knot of his tie, while the courtroom 
went into such wild applause that the judge had to threaten to 
clear it to restore order. Finally, supported by Gieslcr, who, 
according to reporters, seemed to be having some trouble with 
tears himself, my father made his way through the press of 
congratulatory people to the jury box. 

“God bless you all,” he said as he shook hands with each 
of the jurors. “I’ve always had an abiding faith in the Ameri- 
can people and justice . . . and the press has been very fair, 
very fair — thank you.” 

When the news was telephoned to Oona, who was ex- 
pecting her first child in August, she fainted wdth relief. 

“I’m so glad I can hardly speak,” she said afterwards, and 
she added almost as if it were an apology for an apparent 
desertion, “I didn’t go to court with Charlie because he 
wanted me spared, but I would have sat right with him if he 
had permitted it.” 

Shortly after the Mann Act trial. Judge O’Connor moved 
to acquit all those who had been indicted on the charge of con- 
spiring to deprive Miss Barry of her civil rights. But my 
father’s trials were not yet over. By this time the blood tests 
of himself. Miss Barry and Carol Ann had been made by 
three noted pathologists. Dr. Roy W. Hammack, Dr. Newton 



Evans, and Dr. Vernon L. Andrews. All three, working sep- 
arately, had come to the same conclusion. They declared un- 
equivocally that by these scientifically accurate tests my 
father could not possibly be the child’s father, because she 
had a type of blood different from either his or Miss Barry’s. 

According to the stipulation previou.sly agreed to by Miss 
Barry and my father, this should have ended all further liti- 
gation and Miss Barry’s lawyer, John J. Irwin, felt honor- 
bound to bow out of the picture. Attorney Joseph Scott took 
his place. Meanwhile, Superior Court Judge Stanley Mosk 
overruled the motion of my father’s lawyers to dismiss the 
suit, pointing out that though blood grouping tests are ac- 
cepted in the courts as corroborative evidence no decision in 
the United Stares had heretofore regarded them as conclusive, 
and they were not so regarded in California. He ruled, there- 
fore, that “the ends of justice will best be ser\'ed by a full and 
fair trial of the issues.” 

Judge Mosk was only declaring on a point of law, but 
Joseph Scott hailed his niling as “a heroic and courageous 
decision.” It was obvious that Mr. Scott was not going to re- 
gard the case as a simple paternity trial but as some kind of 
cause celebre. 


Life settled down to a happier state for my father after the 
Mann Act trial. In August Oona gave birth by Caesarean sec- 
tion to my charming little half-sister Geraldine. .'\nd Dad, 
who had been disappointed that Syd was bom a boy, had his 
girl at last. 

Nineteen days after Geraldine’s birth, my father’s first 
wife, Mildred Harris, died at the age of forty-three following 
an operation at Cedars of Lebanon hospital in Los Angeles. 
My father sent a spray of orchids, roses and gladioli to the 
funeral, which was held at Hollywood Cemetcr\^ It was his 
last tribute to the first girl who won his heart in America. 

Actually, that summer was only a period of uneasy truce 
for my father. Mrs. Gertrude Berry, Carol Ann’s grand- 



mother and guardian, was pressing for an early settlement of 
paternity suit. By June my father had paid more than ten 
thousand dollars for the little girl’s support, which he thought 
a large sum of money to spend on a baby in a single year. 
Nevertheless, he did not cavil about continuing to support 
the child until the case came to trial. As I’ve pointed out be- 
fore, his primary motive M^as not to escape monetary respon- 
sibility but to fight what he considered blackmail. 

At Camp llaan during those months there was an air of 
growing uncertainty. Things were getting rougher in Europe 
and the East, and we all knew that it was only a matter of 
time before we would be in combat too. As time went by, 
boys began to get their orders right and left. One day Stan 
got his and we were separated and were not to see each other 
again until the close of the war. 1 had come to depend on him 
like a big brother. After he left 1 felt depressed and alone and 
began to drink more, thinking of what was awaiting me. 

Sometime that fall I was transferred from Camp Haan to 
the 89th Infantry Division at Camp Butner in North Carolina 
and got my first look at German and Italian prisoners. I was 
surprised to find that they were just people, friendly and 
polite. It came to me with a shock that it was people such as 
these that I was going out to fight and kill and who were 
going to do their best to kill me. 

From Camp Butner 1 went to Camp Miles Standish in Bos- 
ton to wait embarkation, and 1 was there when the paternity 
trial started. My father, who felt that the results of the blood 
tests had made the paternity trial a routine affair, put it in the 
hands of his own lawyers, and Charles (Pat) Millikan de- 
fended him in court. This decision was made without taking 
two factors into account. One was that Miss Barry’s new law- 
yer, Joseph Scott, even from his first appeal in Judge Stanley 
Alosk’s court, obviously intended to rely on emotionalism, in 
contrast to the dignified and completely legalistic approach of 
Prosecutor Carr. 1 he other was that the plaintiff would not 
be the formidable United States Government, in relation to 



which my father had been the “little man,” but a beautiful 
and innocent eighteen-month-old child, who, with her at- 
tractive young mother, would be cast in the role of under- 

In this situation my father needed Mr. Giesler’s adroit 
showmanship to protect not only his interests but his reputa- 
tion as well. Pat Millikan was capable and thorough, but he 
lacked Mr. Giesler’s superb sense of the dramatic, and the 
trial was drama, or rather melodrama, from start to finish. 

It began shortly before Christmas. I read about it daily in 
the papers. You couldn’t escape it, really. There was little 
additional material to what had already been brought out at 
the Mann Act trial; the only really new evidence was the 
testimony of the three doctors, who stated unequivocally 
that scientific evidence in the form of the blood tests proved 
conclusively that my father could not possibly be the father 
of the child. So impressive was the testimony of these doctors 
that reporters on the scene felt my father had won the case. 
They were quick to note that apparently Mr. Scott thought 
so, too, for it was then that he pulled out all stops in an emo- 
tional attack on my father, apparently without considering 
the paradox of defaming the very name he was fighting to 
give the child. Even veteran court attaches registered shock 
at his strong language, saying that in all the years they had 
been around they had never before heard such intemperance 
in a courtroom. 

Mr. Scott belittled my father unmercifully, referring to 
him among other things as a “gray-hcaded old buzzard,” 
“little runt of a Svcngali,” “debaucher” and a “lecherous 
hound” who “lies like a cheap Cockney cad.” There was no 
justification in fact for the epithets Mr. Scott hung on my 
father. Since the sensational headlines that had preceded his 
finally equable divorce from my mother in 1927, a period of 
some sixteen years, my father had not been touched by 
scandal. He had never been implicated in any charge of im- 


morality until the Mann Act accusation, from which he was 
completely exonerated. 

At one point in Mr. Scott’s haranguing my father involun- 
tarily turned to Judge Henry M. Willis. 

“Your Honor, I’ve committed no crime,’’ he remonstrated 
heatedly. “I’m only human. But this man is trying to make a 
monster out of me.” 

If only my father had called to mind that chapter in Dick- 
ens’ Pickwick Papers which sets forth Sergeant Bu/.fu/’ plea 
before the jury in the memorable brcach-of-promisc suit of 
Bardell against Pickwick, he might have been able to retain 
some sense of humor. As a seasoned actor he might then have 
found the poise to play his role with chami and convincing 
reasonableness. But even in moments of minor stress my father 
could never keep his head. 

How could he maintain his equilibrium on the witness stand 
while Mr. Scott was not only deriding and needling him but 
even accusing him of puqaosely not remembering dates and 
places? The jur\' had no way of knowing that my father’s 
faulty memory for numbers and names is an idiosyncrasy 
about which he has always been very sensitive. 1 Ic just looked 
to them like an irascible villain caught at a crime ar.d tiying 
to lie himself out. 

A of injustice so black and overpowering it washed 
away all reason, that was the Achilles heel Mr. Scott opened 
in my father — the cruel emotions, perhaps, of a long-ago 
Christmas Day in a London orphanage. .My father sometimes 
told me about that day when he wanted me to reali/.e graph- 
ically how much more fortunate my lot had been, and I used 
to think of it on Christmas when Syd and 1 were opening the 
mountains of toys Dad always lavished on us. In my mind’s 
eye I would see another little boy sitting on a bench at a bare 
dining-hall table, crying empty-handed while all the other 
children received their small but treasured Christmas treats, a 
few candies and an orange apiece. The little boy alone had 



been singled out for deprivation because of some insignificant 

riie feeling of being unjustly punished wbicb my father 
experienced that day in the orphanage must have welled u[) 
during the ordeal of the pateriuty trial. And looking at the 
whole affair dispassionately, it does seem to be far more in 
the nature of a chastLsement than an orderly inquiry into his 
actual rcsponsibilitv in the case at hand. 

“There has been no one to .stop Chaplin in his lecherous 
conduct all these yeats — except you," Scott shouted to the 
jurv'. “Wives and mothers all over the country arc watching 
to see you stop him dead in his tracks. You’ll sleep well the 
night you give this baby a name — the night you show him the 
law means him as well as the bums on Skid Row.’’ 

The first trial resulted in a hung jury, though it was seven 
to five in my father’s favor. It is interesting to sec the opinions 
of the jurors. Despite the doctors’ professional standing, the 
negative blood tests were discounted from the first. None of 
the jurors liked my father’s actions in court. 1 hose who voted 
for him did so because they felt Miss Barry had not proved 
her case. 

Ac this point Judge Clarence L. Kincaid, wlio was to pre- 
side at the next trial, offered to arbitrate. Air. Scott, 
feeling at a disadvantage because of the decision of the first 
jury, accepted the offer. My father refused. It was part of his 
stubborn integrity to try for a complete exoneration. During 
the second trial Mr. Scott continued his emotional attack, and 
my father, wearying of the whole thing, stopped showing up 
at court to testify, as was his prerogative in a civil suit. Me 
wasn’t there when the jury reached its verdict. It, too, com- 
pletely ignored the scientific blood tests which the doctors 
claimed were infallible, and it was even less favorably im- 
pressed by my father than the first jury had been. It brought 
in a verdict, eleven to one, of guilty. 

Following the original stipulation. Judge Kincaid allotted 
seventy-five dollars a week to Carol Ann, the sum to be in- 



creased to a hundred as her expenses grew greater. Further- 
more, she was now legally entiricd to claim the Chaplin name. 
Miss Harry had won her case, but the trial had not benefireti 
her personally, for she had had to humiliate and embarrass 
herself by her many derailed allegations of intimacies. 

My father suffered such a deadly blow to his reputation in 
this country that he has not yet completely recovered from it. 
The ugly image of a libertine which Mr. Scott superimposed 
upon his long years of uneventful domesticity both before 
and during his marriage to Paulette has also cast its shadow 
over the long period of his happy marriage to Oona. Yet 1 do 
not sec how any man could have better proved himself a de- 
voted husband and a good father than Dad has with Oona 
and their brood of seven children. 

Others were hurt by the trial, too. Syd and 1 were shamed 
by the daily newspaper accounts, and Oona’s little girl had to 
start life under the cloud of Bur 1 think the saddest 
victim of all was the little plaintiff of the case, eighteen- 
month-old Carol Ann, who was brought needlessly into the 
courtroom e\cr)' day, exposed to the stares of the curious and 
made an object of notoriety around the world. It seems to me 
that a child’s right to start life unhampered as much as pos- 
sible by the mistakes of adults is as important as its physical 
welfare. I have a little daughter of my own now, and 1 should 
not like to sec her exposed as Carol ,\nn was. Though 1 am 
ncitl'ier judge nor lawyer, I feel strongly that something 
should be done to protect the cliildren of disjnited paternity 
cases from unsavory publicity, and that they should at least be 
pro\ided with closed-court hearings. 

As for the two juries, they did not escape severe censure 
from legal and medical authorities for their verdicts. In his 
book, Disputed Patervity Proceedings, published in 1953, 
Sidney li. Schotkin, As.sistant Corporation Counsel of the 
City of New York, says, “The Chaplin verdict is contrary to 
science, nature and truth.” 

“In short,” agrees Dr. Wladimir Eliasberg, a well-known 



psychologist writing in the July i94^ edition of the Southern 
Ca/ifornia Law Review, “the Chaplin jury let sentimental 
considerations turn logic out of doors and failed dismally in 
its task of weighing the evidence.” 

“The Chaplin case is a landmark in the miscarriage of jus- 
tice,” says Los Angeles attorney Eugene L. Trope, who has 
become an authority on the Chaplin case because of his own 
\\'ork with defendants of paternity cases. “It was humanly 
and scientifically impossible for Chaplin to have been the 
father of the Joan Barry child.” 

Mr. Trope, who in 1959 secured an acquittal in the much- 
publicized case of rodeo star Casey Tibbs vs. Leah J. Connor, 
says that my father’s trial did, however, benefit others in- 
volved in paternity suits. Because of his fame and the wide 
publicity the case received, the attention of California law- 
makers was vividly drawn to the state’s antiquated attitude 
toward blood tests. In 1953 the California legislature passed 
a paternity ruling prohibiting further litigation in cases where 
the blood tests prove conclusively that a defendant cannot 
be the father of a child. Ironically, if Joan Barry had tried to 
bring her suit against my father in more recent years, he 
would have been completely exonerated by the findings of 
the three pathologists and there would have been no paternity 

And where are the principals in the case today? In 1946, 
Miss Barry married. At the time she said she w'as happily con- 
tent with her new life of obscurity. 

But in 1953, when she was committed to Patton State Hos- 
pital after having been found wandering in Torrance, Cali- 
fornia, it was revealed that she had tired of her quiet life. As 
in 1941 when she first met my father, she had come up from 
Mexico City, where she had been looking once more for 
theatrical work. Her marriage had proved a failure, and her 
husband, from whom she was separated, was not providing 
support for their two cltildren. Today Dr. O. L. Gericke, the 



superintendent at Patton, in verifying my query about the 
case, discloses that the tragic Miss Barry is still a patient there 
“and will require treatment for an indefinite time.” 

The little plaintiff, who is sixteen years old now, is still re- 
ceiving the hundred dollars a week support money from my 
father in far-off Vevey, my father who, for so long as I’ve 
known him, could never bear to see a child suffering want and 
privation. As he cried out in court that day, he isn’t a monster 
after all, but only a human being with virtues and weaknesses 
like the rest of us. 


On January lo, 1945, the 89th Infantry Division embarked 
for Europe. Our ship was overcrowded, and many of us had 
to sleep in the aisles. All the way over we had to zigzag to 
escape German submarines. In the English Channel wc were 
trailed by four subs and kept firing depth charges at intervals. 
At last, one cold night, we came into Le Havre and walked 
up the pebbly beach — the pebbly beaches of France, I re- 
membered them from my childhood. 

It was one thirty in the morning by the time we climbed 
into the open vans waiting for us. The wind was blowing a 
blizzard when wc passed through Le I lavre, and I was heart- 
sick as I stared at the rubble-strewn city and remembered 
how it had looked so long ago. Dreaming of warm billeting, 



we drove seventy miles through the freezing night to Camp 
Lucky Strike. But the soldiers who had vacated the tents to 
move up to the front had left the flaps open. It was as cold 
inside as out, and we had to pick our way carefully because 
the place was still mined. I found a little straw and put it on 
top of the snow in one of the tents and laid my sleeping bag 
on top of that and went to sleep without giving a single 
thought to my father’s warnings about pneumonia. 

We spent six weeks training in France, and because I knew 
French I acted as interpreter for the officers in the ordnance 

Then we moved up to once beautiful Reims, a horrible 
rubble now, and so came to Luxembourg, our last stop before 
Germany. The citizens of I.uxembourg welcomed us with 
cheers and bade us farewell with tears. And then we entered 
Aachen, our first German city. Once it had housed more than 
a million inhabitants. Now it was only a mass of debris. At 
Aachen we each got a notice from General Omar Bradley 
telling us that we were entering the combat area. They loaded 
us with ammo and grenades and we were moving again. 

At Trier we heard at last the first sounds of war, the distant 
rumble of guns. We felt tense and frightened. This was it, we 

Ever since I left my family in California I had been writing 
my grandmother twice a week, and I continued to do so even 
now. I put something personal in each letter for my mother 
and something for Dad. Nana would show the letter to 
A'lother and then mail it on to my father. Mother and Nana 
wrote me every week, but 1 heard from Dad only through 

“We can’t believe you’re at the front lines, Charlie,’’ Oona’s 
letters would begin. “Neither your father nor I. Why, just a 
few months ago you were over here swimming and enjoying 
yourself.” Then would follow all kinds of warnings, so that 
as I read along I could picture Dad standing at her shoulder, 
his hands behind his back, telling her just what to say. Dad 



was, of course, still warning me about catching my death of 
cold in foxholes. 

I had been promoted to corporal by the time we moved up 
from Trier. I was camped in a foxhole behind a hill when 
they brought me the letter from my mother. Arthur Day had 
been shipped to New Guinea and was in a battle zone, Syd 
was in training, and my mother, feeling alone and deserted 
by her menfolk, was now deep in the throes of her second 
nervous breakdown. She wrote me that life was no longer 
worth living since we were all gone, that nothing mattered to 
her any more and she was going to kill herself. 

Shocked, I read the letter over and over, my heart in 
my throat. Just then the sergeant, a tough, hard soldier, came 
by and took a long look at me. 

“What’s the matter, son?” he asked. 

I told him, and suddenly I saw his face turn compassionate. 

“Come along, we’ll see the chaplain,” he ordered. 

The chaplain comforted me and then notified the Red 
Cross. I went back to the front while they got in touch with 
my family at home. Later I learned unhappily that they had 
given my mother a severe scolding. But all I heard then was 
that they had checked and everything was all right and I was 
not to worry. It was done in an inconceivably short time. 
How hard our government worked to keep up the morale 
of the soldiers at the front! 

The next day we moved to the town of Gotha. It had just 
been captured and the civilians were still around, though 
there was rubble everywhere. In the center of the market 
place I saw the ruins of a circular opera house. It was an 
empty shell, yet somehow, miraculously, the names of the 
German great engraved on the ruined wall had not been dis- 
turbed. Goethe, Beethoven, Schiller, Wagner, Heine — they 
were all there, a melancholy reminder of the days of German 
culture. I read them over to myself and in my imagination I 
heard the strains of music that had once floated from the 
opera house in happier, peaceful days. I turned away and 
went to my billet, which was in a German radio factory. 



where we were housing the guns we had to repair. All the 
windows of the factory had been blown out and it looked 
like a haunted place. Once I had known a haunted house at 
Pebble Beach. I low far away, remote in time and space, how 
delightfully childish it seemed. This was the front. 

In Gotha I saw my first action. A Czechoslovakian running 
up to warn us that civilian snipers were plotting an attack was 
shot down by a nervous sentry for not knowing the password 
and not stopping when the warning shots were fired in the air. 
The Czech gasped out his story as he lay dying horribly, his 
chest tom wide open by the shell. We had no morphine to 
make it easier for him, just dressings and sulpha. He was the 
first man I had ever seen die. 

The attack started before he died. It was close to twilight. 
Suddenly machine-gun tracer bullets started coming at us 
from the buildings across the street. I hit the dirt. I didn’t 
even have my helmet on at the time. I had to crawl a hundred 
feet to mv^ billet in the factory, scared and cursing every inch 
of the wav, with the bullets hitting just above my head. I 
reached the billet and, lying on the floor, put on my helniet. 
The bullets were still coming in through the window's. I W'as 
the assistant bazooka man and the Lieutenant asked me to go 
out in the middle of the street, directly in the line of fire, and 
lob a few bazooka shells tlirough the windows of the buildings 
across the w^ay. 

“We’ll cover you, Charlie,” he said. 

I tried to follow his orders, but 1 was shaking so hard I 
couldn’t coordinate. 

“I’ll do it,” the Lieutenant told me. “You dive into the 
trench by the road and help the others there.” 

Coolly the Lieutenant sent off tw'o bazooka shells and fired 
up both buildings while I dove into the trench w^here the 
rest of the platoon w'as stationed. There’s wdiere I almost got 
killed. It w^as quite dark now. You could tell the position of 
the guns only by the light flashes. I got so interested in drawl- 
ing a bead on them that I forgot to keep my head down. 
Suddenly the fellow next to me shoved me. 



^Vuck!'' he yelled. 

j dij—jusc in rime. I didn't think anything of it then. There 
wasn’t rime to think. We went on firing until the liglit flashes 
stopped, then spent five hours in position waiting, and the 
waiting was even more horrifying than the action, because it 
was jet-black now. We felt like sitting ducks, not knowing if 
there was going to be another attack or where it would come 
from. W^e started joking and laughing hysterically over noth- 
ing to while the time away. And finally it was over and we 
got some sleep. 

The next day we rounded up thirteen bodies of the enemy. 
Some of us had to stand guard over them while thick clouds 
of flies buzzed overhead and the relatives wailed hj stcrically. 
The rest of us went through the buildings to flush out any re- 
maining snipers. 

Chagrined by my performance with the bazooka, 1 was 
determined to be brave. I hurried to be the first to kick in the 
doors and look around and take the fire if there was any, but 
the Captain wouldn’t allow it. 

“No, let me,” he said. I le was as calm as a cucumber, a 
brave man. 

That was the day President Roosevelt died. Back in the 
States they recessed the court session of my father’s second 
paternity trial to mourn the president’s passing, and in Gotha 
grown soldiers sat and wept like children. And I began for 
the first time to think seriously of death. Thoughts are dan- 
gerous at the front. I became dazed and silent. Now and then 
I shivered so hard my teeth rattled. When I walked I seemed 
to have lost my equilibrium; I kept banging into people, and 
1 couldn’t find the words to answer when they asked me what 
was wrong. 

They said I M^as suflfering a mild case of shock, so they 
took me to the first-aid station back of the lines and I stayed 
there for a short time. I begged them not to put it on my 
record and they listened to me. When I went back to the 
front I was a seasoned soldier. 



Though the fear never left, war had become just a chore 
now. As a member of the ordnance crew it was my task to re- 
pair the guns on the front. A sudden image of Kay tinkering 
blissfully about Dad’s cars with the parrs strewn all round 
him in the quiet garage at home would sometimes come to me 
as I worked. 

There was no quiet on the front. Every time we went out 
it was like a nightmare. We zigzagged up the hillside in our 
jeep. Just short of the brow we jumped out and carefully 
made our way to the guns, usually crawling there. W'e re- 
paired them under the fire of the enemy, learning to duck 
when we heard the warning Sh-sh-sh-sh of a big shell. If 
you didn’t move fast enttugh it was curtains. 

One day 1 saw a friend of mine die that way. 1 didn’t know 
he’d been hit until I saw blood oozing from a thousand little 
shrapnel holes in his chest. When wc turned him over we saw 
that the blast had left his back a mangled mass of flesh. I 
looked at him and I almost started to crv. Who can describe 
the loneliness a .soldier feels when he looks at the \iolent 
death of a friend and the shells are still coming over and he 
knows that at any moment one of them mav have his number 
on it? 

I began to drink more. 1 still didn't like the taste of it, but 
I found it wanned me and kept me from thinking and dulled 
the fear. Almost everyone drank and for the same reason. 
Everyone snatched what fun he could, knowing it might be 
his last. And we seldom talked romantically of the girl back 
home or our families or the nostalgic fun of our boyhood 
and youth, as is so often depicted in war movies. All we 
thought of was, “I’m scared. Oh, God, I wish we were all out 
of here,” 

By this time Syd was in the anny, too. He had been sent 
over to Europe as a rifleman replacement in the 65th Infantry, 
a stranger taking a dead man’s place in an already organized 
outfit. So it was even harder for him than for me. 

After the war Syd was to tell us of his first hand-to-hand 



encounter with death. Armed with a forty-Hve-caliber pistol, 
he was accompanying an officer who was going through 
buildings rounding up Nazis. They wxnt into the second 
story of a house and came across a German officer. I Ic sur- 
rendered and they told him to put his hands on top of his 
head. Then they began ransacking the room for private- 
papers. While they were busy at this the Nazi turned, niadc 
a break for the door and started running down the steps. 

“Shoot him!” the officer commanded Syd. 

“You mean /’/// him?” Syd asked in horror, lie couldn’t 
believe he was actually being ordered to hre on a defenseless 
fellow man. He shut his eyes and pulled the trigger, and that 
was the way my independent, light-hearted younger brother 
was introduced to w’ar. 

One day the unbelievable happened. I received a long, per- 
sonal letter directly from my father. He must have just seen 
a newsreel of soldiers working their way through mined 
houses, because the letter was full of warnings about booby 
traps. He was genuinely worried. 

“Be careful where you walk, son,” he wrote. “You might 
step on a mine and blow off your foot. It’s not good to go 
through life manned. Don’t pick up strange objects, you 
might get a hand blown off.” 

He seemed especially concerned about pianos and singled 
them out for attention, warning me not to play on a strange 
one or to lift it or move it for fear the whole thing would 
blow up in my face. I suppose pianos troubled him so much 
because ever since I had shown an interest in music he had 
associated me with them. I had to laugh. Pianos were the least 
of my concern while bullets were flying overhead and shells 
were lobbing over and an occasional German plane was 
strafing us. 

It was all a wearisome bloody frightening business, and a 
sickening one as well, when we came in to Ohrdruf and in- 
spected the grim concentration camp surrounded with its 



barbed wire. The place was like a horrible nightmare, with its 
gas chambers that looked like shower stalls, its lime pits and 
the pyres made of railroad ties. We saw heaps of charred 
bodies on the pyres. Bodies were stacked in shacks. Partly de- 
composed bodies were in the lime pits. In the courtyard there 
was another pile of bodies, each with a bullet in the back of 
the head. 

We brought the mayor of Ohrdruf and his wife to see 
what had been going on in theii town. And they went away 
and hanged themselves. 

Then our outfit was on the move again toward Berlin. 

Two days after we had seen the concentration camp, there 
was great excitement among the men because word got out 
that five men and three officers were to be sent on a recupera- 
tion trip to the Riviera, the names to be chosen by lot. I 
couldn’t believe it when the Sergeant told me my name was 
the first enlisted man’s to be drawn out of hundreds. We 
drove straight from the front, dirty, unshaven, looking like 

At Nice we were given clean unifonns and we had a time 
for ourselves, two weeks packed as full of fun as we could, 
for all of us were thinking, “Maybe this is our last two 

The two weeks came to an end too soon and we were back 
in the truck making our wav to our outfit, and the scared 
feeling was with us again full force. 

But when we came to Holland on May 8, 1945, we found 
dancing in all the streets of the Dutch cities. People swarmed 
round our truck and stopped us. Pretty girls grabbed us and 
hugged us, and everyone offered us beer. And so they made 
us understand the war was over. No more hiding in foxholes. 
No more sweating on ridges under the barrage of guns, no 
more killing and getting killed. Wc whooped it up and 
danced and sang and drank their beer and kissed their pretty 
girls, and finally we made our way to our outfit, but we were 
no longer going back to die. 



I was sent almost immediately to Fort Leonard Wood, near 
St. Louis, Missouri, and there, by coincidence, I met up again 
with Stan and we renewed our old friendship. They kept us 
at Fort Leonard Wood for four months, and then Stan and I 
were sent west to Fort Mac Arthur and from there we were 
discharged on February 2, 1946. 

I had two battle stars to prove I had been in combat, but 
suddenly the things of war were no longer important to me. 
I was a civilian again and glad of it. 1 persuaded Stan to go 
back with me to Hollywood and live with me and try to 
make a place for himself there. So Stan listened to me, and he 
says that I’m responsible for all his subsequent good fortune, 
that otherwise he would never have become an ASCAP com- 
poser writing special and original music for a number of top 
radio and television shows. Stan is married now and has four 
children. We’re still close friends and tell each other our 
troubles and weep on each other’s shoulders and celebrate 
with each other when the going is good. It is just as it was 
in the army days. 

As soon as we got back to Hollywood 1 took Stan with me 
to the house on the hill. Aiy little half-sister Geraldine was a 
year and a half old and scampering around the place. Oona 
was expecting her next baby shortly. But my father looked 
the same. He was sitting with his glasses on at his little table 
in the study and his pencil was racing over the yellow, lined 
paper before him as he worked on Monsieur Verdoux. Even 
the buzzer that looked like a doorbell was in its identical 
place. It was impossible to believe that a year and a half and 
a war lay between us and the last time 1 had walked in and 
found him sitting in that same position working on that same 
script. It might have been yesterday. 


Ever since 1941, at least, my father had been working on and 
off at Monsieur Verdoux. He had taken time out for the 
screenplay of Shadow and Substance during that fateful inter- 
lude with Joan Harrv, but as soon as that was over he had 
returned to the fonner script. 

Dad had been introduced to the macabre story of the 
French Bluebeard by Orson Welles, who had been toying 
with the idea himself. One night after dinner at Dad’s home 
they had discussed it. From that time on my father was 
haunted by it, and finally he asked Tim Durant to buy the 
idea from Welles. He never used Welles’s idea, however, only 
the central character of Landru, who became Monsieur Ver- 
doux in the picture. 


3 ” 


From the first, friends had been dubious about the possi- 
bility of turning the gruesome plot into a comedy, but my 
father could not be dissuaded. Monsieur V er doit x was really 
as much a mission with him as The Great Dictator. It was to 
be his outcry against both the sufferings brought on by de- 
pressions and those caused by wars, with their mass killings, 
in particular the destructiveness of the atom bomb, which had 
so horrified him when it was dropped on Nagasaki and Hir- 

I think, howxver, that Monsieur Verdoux was more than a 
mission with my father. I feel that this picture served to ob- 
jectify for him all the mingled fascination and horror he had 
felt throughout his life toward violence and the macabre — 
the gruesome newspaper story, especially if it concerned a 
child . . . the various sadistic punishments of different races 
which he would discuss with me at length . . . suicide and 
madness and the drama that precedes an execution, the con- 
demned man’s last meal and words and actions. 

When I sent him some war souvenirs, a big Nazi flag, a 
German officer’s dress sword and dagger beautifully carved 
and ornamented, he gave them back to me as soon as he could. 

“I’m very proud of you, son, but I don’t even want them 
here,” he told me. “I can’t bear to have them in the house.” 
The horror in his face as he returned them was very evident. 

Monsieur Verdoux served as an outlet for all these ambiv- 
alent emotions, and most especially for the destructive grief 
my father has always felt in the presence of the dark under- 
currents of the human psyche. It was as though he hoped, 
with burlesque, to lighten the grimness inherent in life and 
to project it outside himself. 

When I returned from the war that February the Monsieur 
Verdoux script was almost finished. Dad was as immersed in 
his subject as he had been in Hitler. Fie studied every detail 
of the life of the little murderer, and sometimes, thinking 



about him, he would be sunk in a depression that would last 
for hours. 

“How could this man so methodically take these women 
out and cut them up and bum them in his incinerator, and 
then tend his flowers, with the black smoke coming out of 
the chimney?” he would suddenly exclaim in a tone of 

In the next instant he would snap out of his brown study 
and start pantomiming the gmesome episode, turning it into 
such comedy that I couldn’t help laughing. These uproarious 
scenes from Movsieur Verdoux which Dad depicted for me 
and any guests who visited him were the order of things 
throughout that spring of 1946. But when he went to film the 
picture he discarded most of the sequences he had tried out 
beforehand on us. I always regretted tliis, for I thought those 
spontaneous episodes far funnier than anything I saw on the 
screen. Perhaps it was because I had been spoiled in this way 
that I liked Monsieur Verdoux less than any of my father’s 

Dad had settled on his female lead months before I was 
discharged from the army, and he had at once begun writing 
his script around her without even notifying her of what he 
was doing. The girl was Martha Raye, the first of his leading 
ladies to have made movies in Hollywood before she came to 
my father. But as Martha says, her career has always been 
full of ups and downs and at the moment it was decidedly 
down, she was working at the Latin Quarter in New York 
when her phone rang one day. 

“This is Charlie Chaplin,” the voice at the other end said 
when Martha picked up the receiver. 

“Oh, sure,” Martlia laughed, taking it for a gag, and 
hung up. 

she gasped when Abe Lastfogel, her agent, got in touch 
with her and told her it actually had been my father. 

“Why, to a comedienne that’s almost like God calling you,” 
Martha explains. 



She was shaking when she phoned him back, but she man- 
aged to say yes when he asked if she could get to Hollywood 
in twelve days. All she could think of was that he was the 
King of Comedy, and she was to play opposite him. 

The first day on the set was the first time they met, and as 
she talked to him Martha felt as though her knees were shak- 
ing hands with each other. They had lunch and then Dad, 
seeing how frightened she was, told her they would take two 
days to rehearse. But the two days couldn’t erase Martha’s 
awe. The great Charlie Chaplin! She had heard from others 
what a tyrant and perfectionist he was as a director. 

For several days she went timidly around the set addressing 
Dad in a very dignified manner. It was Mr. Chaplin this, Mr. 
Chaplin that, until she became so tense and nervous she was 
almost ready to jump out of her skin. Then she decided to do 
something about it, something drastic no matter what the 
results. Syd, who by this time was out of the anny too, and 
I were on the set the day Martha made her move. Dad was 
in the middle of one of his directorial stews and everyone was 
sweating it out with him. 

“Chuck! Chuck!” Martha suddenly intoned. “How do you 
want me to do this bit?” 

Dad looked around, startled. I guess it was the first time he 
had ever been called by that nickname. His eyes met Martha’s 
and saw the challenging glint in them. Suddenly an amused 
look brightened his face. The tension eased. From then on it 
was “Chuck” all the time with Martha, and “Maggie” with 
Dad, because Martha’s real name is Margaret Reed. 

Martha had crossed her first hurdle. But she realized it 
wasn’t enough. She had to keep asserting herself if she didn’t 
want to be completely cowed by my father’s personality. 
One day, in the middle of a scene, she broke everything up 
by stopping short. 

“One hour!” she announced in a clarion voice. 

“What . . . what do you mean?” Dad asked, too startled to 
be angry. 



“Lunch,” Martha explained tersely. “It’s two o’clock and 
we haven’t had lunch yet.” 

It was the first time on one of Dad’s sets that anyone had 
dared call attention to the passage of time. 

“You’re so right,” Dad agreed, and he dismissed the cast 
and crew for lunch. 

After that, whenever Martha sang out “One hour!” Dad 
would knock off without a word. Those of us who knew his 
ways smiled to ourselves. For the only time in his directorial 
career, one of his feminine stars had dared to call his bluff. 

Martha wasn’t doing a picture with my father just for the 
ride. She was as eager to learn as Paulette and Jack Oakie had 
been. You saw her around the sets all the time, even when 
.she wasn’t needed, watching how things were done. And she 
sopped up every bit of instmetion my father offered her. She 
found his advice especially helpful because her style of enter- 
tainment is based on pantomime. She learned from Dad to 
scale her pantomime to the size of her audience, as a speaker 
scales his voice — magnified pantomime for large theaters, less 
exaggerated for small ones. She learned that the trick sports 
clothes she was wearing to help put her jokes across weren’t 

“Low comedy requires beautiful clothes, good makeup and 
hairdress,” Dad told her. “It’s the gestures, not the clothes, 
that are suppo.scil to get the laugh.s.” 

“He’s right,” Martha says. “But oh, he has cost me a lot of 
money — the money I’ve spent on clothes since!” 

My father especially cautioned Martha not to come to the 
set too well rehearsed. It must have been the first time he had 
ever deprecated rehearsals for one of his feminine stars. But 
Martha was different from the others. She was an active pan- 
tornimist herself, and my father always felt that spontaneity 
was very important to his peculiar combination of low with 
pathetic comedy. 

“If you get bored with yourself and aren’t having fun 



doing it,” he explained to Martha, “the audience won’t have 
fun watching you.” 

I think that because Martha was primarily a pantoniimist, 
my father felt a sense of kinship toward her. He had great 
respect for her talents and seldom corrected her. He never 
tried to tone her down, though Martha, in her nervous con- 
cern, sometimes asked him if she was going too far. 

“Don’t worry,” he told her. “I wrote you in that way. If 
you do anything wrong I’ll let you know.” Then he went on 
to give her another piece of advice. 

“You can do anything if you don’t have a vulgar mind, 
Maggie,” he said. “Have a little pixyishness. Let them have 
fun, it won’t be vulgar. Some can swear, others can’t. It’s like 
another gift, a talent. It’s there or it isn’t. You have to be what 
you are naturally.” 

When she confessed to him one day how nervous she was, 
my father suddenly began pouring out his own problems to 

“I’m bloody nervous myself,” he admitted, and went on to 
tell her that Monsieur Verdoux was an altogether new experi- 
ence for him. He missed his talisman, the Little Tramp, who 
had walked out of The Great Dictator for good. 1 Ic missed 
those familiar baggy pants, the derby and mustache. In their 
place was this strange, even repulsive character, a French 
Bluebeard. Out of his gruesome life he had somehow to con- 
struct a comedy and manage to keep it balanced dexterously 
on the borderline not only of tragedy but of the downright 

“Why did he tell me about his nervousness?” Martha won- 
dered. “He’s the great Charlie Chaplin. He doesn’t have to 
admit to weaknesses.” It apparently didn’t occur to her that 
there never was a lonelier man than Dad when he was in pro- 

There weren’t nearly so many retakes on Monsieur Ver- 
doux as on my father’s previous pictures. lie seemed to be 
racing to complete it, and he did so in the record time, for a 



Chaplin picture, of»,twelve weeks; though it wasn’t ready to 
be premiered until April of the following year. 

Monsieur Verdoux wasn’t a success in this country. It 
lacked appeal for American audiences, and in addition, it was 
boycotted by various groups. Some of them objected to the 
picture itself as making light of murder, but others made it 
plain that the boycott was directed not at the film but at my 
father. In May of 1947, for instance, a month after the picture 
opened, three hundred and twenty-five Ohio movie-theater 
owners tried to bring about a nation-wide boycott because 
they didn’t believe screen time should be “dissipated upon a 
screen personality such as Chaplin.” The picture that had 
been painted of my father as a licentious philanderer had 
succeeded in focusing attention on his personal life, and every 
fault of which he had ever been accused was now being 
blown up until it resembled a major crime. But I shall come 
to this subject later. 

In Europe Monsieur Verdoux was hailed as a masterpiece 
and won several aw'ards. It was particularly popular in France, 
the homeland of the murderer. Martha Raye was to have 
first-hand proof of this when, just after its release, she went 
over to do a road show for the occupation troops. Martha 
stopped off in Paris to purchase an outfit from Dior’s estab- 
lishment. She had only an hour or so, but Dior, who was 
putting on a fashion show at the moment, had a strict rule 
not to sell at such times. Martha was in despair when in 
walked Pierre Balmain, Dior’s assistant at the time. He 
shrugged his shoulders when Martha introduced herself, be- 
cause Martha Raye was nobody to him. Then he took a sec- 
ond look. 

“Madame Verdoux!” he shouted exuberantly and threw 
his arms around her, kissing her on both cheeks in typical 
French fashion. After that anything she wanted was hers. 

“Not even a gendarme would recognize me as Martha 
Raye,” Martha told me. “But everyone knew Madame Ver- 



As for those twelve weeks of work with my father, Martha 
sums it up in typical hyperbole. “I was honored,” she told 
me seriously. “I would have done it for nothing — just to have 
the opportunity of working with him. Any comedian to this 
day asks me what it was like, I tell them, I tell everyone, that 
I look on it as the greatest experience in my life next to having 
my daughter.” 


I was out of the army. I was free. I was twenty-one. Suddenly 
life had become the most important thing in the world to me. 
I set out to enjoy it to the full — lots of relaxation, parties, 
girls. The ones I brought up to the house were no longer 
callow teenagers but more sophisticated young starlets. I 
wanted to cut a swath with them, so I sopped up my father’s 
advice on how to woo and win a girl. After all, throughout 
his life women had been more or less tlwowing themselves 
into his arms. 

“Most men put the wrong thing first in courting a girl,” 
Dad used to tell Syd and me. “Always be a gentleman. Fasci- 
nate her by your mind first, not by your powers as a man. 
That comes much later.” 



Dad, for his part, was carefully looking over Syd’s and my 
girl friends with the eye of a father who realizes his sons have 
reached marriageable age. He never exactly talked against 
any girl we brought up for dinner or a swim, but if he didn’t 
approve of her he could be a devastating censor in the nicest 
way. He would just pantomime her, and when he did you 
would see every foible she had, highlighted in the most dis- 
concerting way. He was always warning us about the op- 
posite sex. 

With all his advice floating into our ears, it is small wonder 
that Syd and I remained bachelors so long. Of course there 
are other factors as well. The four marriages each of our 
father and mother and the three of our grandmother tended 
to dampen our faith in the joys and stability of matrimony, I 

There was one young girl I brought up about this time who 
especially impressed my father. She was just about my age, 
twenty-one, an appealing little obscure starlet by the name of 
Norma Jean Dougherty who was under stock contract to 
Twentieth Century-Fox. 

“Oh, she’s a beauty,” Dad used to tell me. “What a figure! 
I admire your taste, son, very much.” 

Dad liked to converse with Norma Jean. 1 don’t know what 
they talked about, but I know he did most of the talking, be- 
cause she was always so in awe of him. 

“She does have a way of speaking, doesn’t she?” he would 
tease me afterwards. And then he would mimic Norma Jean! 

“Charrllieee,” he would say in that wispy voice that has 
since become famous, “what are we going to do tonight? ” 

But despite his joking. Dad wasn’t letting anything pass by, 
either. He could see how much I was coming to think of the 
beautiful little starlet. 

“Just watch out, son,” he said. “Don’t fall in love yet. You 
have that education to take care of first.” 

But Dad didn’t need to worry about Norma Jean and me. 
“Well, Charrllieee,” she told me one day, “my name now is 
Marilyn Monroe.” 



Marilyn Monroe started going to the top fast, and it was 
the duty of her studio publicity department to keep her name 
in the papers by dating her here and there with other eligible 
young men. So she and I drifted apart, and I haven’t seen her 
for years. 

My father had never given up his dream of a college edu- 
cation for Syd and me, and all my life I had thought of fol- 
lowing his wishes. But after the army I couldn’t bring myself 
to take four more years of regimentation. It was the same with 
Syd and a lot of other boys whose education had been inter- 
rupted by soldiering. Dad was distressed. 

“Stop playing with the girls and frittering away your time, 
Charles,” he would lecture. “Get that education and then I’ll 
take you into the studio and teach you the movie business 
from top to bottom. I’ll even buy you that house you want so 

Dad knew I had never given up my dream of becoming an 
actor and I had told him I planned to buy a house with the 
savings he had put away for me till my twenty-first birthday. 
His offer was tempting, especially as I knew it was genuine — 
he had never in his life broken a promise to me. And he 
always had such powers of persuasion. It was just like those 
Sunday afternoons of long ago when he sent me back to 
Black-Foxe full of enthusiasm and determination to make my 
mark in school. 

Again I succumbed, at least to a certain point. To please 
him 1 took an extension course at the University of California 
at Los Angeles. But I couldn’t help feeling I was only wasting 
time, and at the end of a year I gave up all thought of a 
formal education. I left U.C.L.A. and joined the Circle 
Idieater group to which Syd belonged, branching out from 
there to the Hollywood Actors Laboratory. 

Here in the acting field Syd and I again showed our differ- 
ent temperaments. Just as Syd had dared compete with my 
father on the tennis court, now he invited both his criticism 
and his coacliing. I preferred to study under other teachers, 
though almost every day I came to watch my father drill Syd. 



I admired Syd’s courage in accepting Dad’s coaching, but I 
didn’t want it for myself. I idolized him too much, was too 
much in aw'e of the figure he cut in the theatrical world to 
feel I could give a genuinely independent performance under 

This doesn’t mean I didn’t welcome his criticisms. Though 
I never rehearsed for him, he would come to see my finished 
performances and afterwards give me pointers. Usually his 
corrections would consist only of a shift of emphasis in some 
line. But sometimes he would suggest a realignment of a whole 
scene, as in Thomas Dekker’s play. The Shoemaker's Holiday, 
in which I played the King. 

He came to watch me perform at Actors Lab on opening 
night, the first time in my life he had seen me act. I was terri- 
fied, wondering how my performance would go over with 
him. For me there was no one else in the theater that night. 

Suddenly in the middle of the play I heard his high-pitched 
spontaneous laughter above the others. Long ago as a child 
on the Ebell Theatre stage I had listened in vain for that dis- 
tinctive laugh. Now 1 played my part with everything I had. 
My father came backstage afterwards to congratulate me. 

“I never knew you were this good, son,” he told me in an 
amazed voice; as if he were truly surprised I could act at all. 

I asked him if he had any suggestions or criticisms. He had 
one that showed how close he kept to naturalism in his art. 

“As the King, you’re making too big a production of 
knighting people,” he told me. “Kings just pull a sword out 
and go poomp, poomp on either shoulder, ‘You are now a 
Knight,’ all very matter of fact, because it’s such a common- 
place thing with them.” 

Everything Dad did on the screen was as offhand as his 
demonstration of a king’s knighting habits. He had no use for 
the various schools of acting, Stanislavsky and Boleslavsky 
included, which taught the mechanics of the art. 

“If you’re good you don’t have to worry about how to go 
about it,” he would say. “It’s intuitive.” 



After I had finished with Actors Lab I went back to New 
York to appear in Noiv I Lay Me Down to Sleep, and after 
that I did my second imitation of my father before an audi- 
ence. It was a far cry from the childish performance at the 
Ebell Theatre. 

Ken Murray asked me to appear in his show at the Roxy 
Theater, and 1 thought a long time before accepting his offer. 
But in the end I consented. I put on the little mustache and the 
derby and, twirling my cane, I acted out my father for about 
six thousand people. 

The critics tore the show apart but they gave me rave 
notices. I stayed with Ken during his two-week run. After- 
wards, Lou Walters of the Latin Quarter wanted to center 
another show on that act at a fabulous price, but I refused. 
The more I refused the more he raised liis price. I was 
tempted, I must admit, but in the end I turned it down. I 
didn’t want to be typed as an imitator of my father. 1 wanted 
to be an actor in my own right. So 1 came back to Hollywood. 
On the way I suddenly realized 1 would have to face my 
father and I began to wonder how he would feel about my 
imitating him. 

I knew how vehement he was about people who tried to 
take advantage of his sons. W'ould he think Ken Murray had 
done just that? Would he think 1 was a fool mining myself 
by imitating him instead of working out my own character- 
ization? Would he figure I was just trying to ride in on his 
fame or make some fast moneys Would he think I was pre- 
sumptuous doing an imitation without consulting him first? 
What if he disowned me? 1 have a very fertile imagination, 
and now I pictured myself cut off from him for good. Yet 1 
loved him and I wanted more than anything to keep his love. 

Worst of all, after I got back to 1 lollywood, I was afraid 
even to face him and find our just how 1 stood. 1 waited two 
weeks, making excuses to myself for not phoning him. 1 hen 
finally one day I went up. lie was sitting on the couch in the 
living room awaiting me. 



“HowVe you been, son?” he said when I came in. “I hear 
you did a very good job in your play with Fredric March.” 

“Thanks, Dad.” I stammered. 

“I hear you also played the Roxy Theater.” 

“Yes, Dad, I did.” 

“I hear you did an imitation of me . . .” He paused, a long 
pause. Then he concluded with a smile, “. . . that was very 

What a relief! Seeing him sitting there in such good humor 
I asked myself what had made me so afraid of him. I felt a 
little foolish. He was my father, I was his son. Tliat was how 
things had always been between us. 

“I think that’s very amusing,” Dad was going on. “Will 
you do your imitation for me?” 

Suddenly I was covered with confusion. “No, I wouldn’t 
dare,” I told him. “I just wouldn’t dare.” 

He kept coaxing but I was too self-conscious. Neither then 
nor later could I bring myself to do that imitation, though he 
asked me often. I was able to do it without hesitation for an- 
other famous man, the late Walter Gieseking, the greatest 
coloratura pianist of our age, and had the satisfaction of hear- 
ing him laugh uproariously over it. But Dad is different. He’s 
not only the master pantomimist of the world, he is also my 

I can’t say that the pantomiming bit I did for Ken Murray 
either helped or hurt my career. I’ve had the same problem 
from the beginning; I look like my father, many of my ges- 
tures resemble his. Casting directors are prone to type me as 
the Little Tramp or the drunk. I’ve even had to fight to keep 
from having my parts built up out of all proportion to the rest 
of the play just in order to display the son of the famous 
Charlie Chaplin imitating his father. 

In the latter part of ’51, when I was twenty-six, my father 
started filming Limelight, which he had been working on for 
the past five years. Syd had the young romantic lead. Even in 



a family there is type casting, and Dad needed someone very 
tall for the part to show off his own small stature. Syd, who 
is over six foot one, is the tallest in our family. Besides, my 
father had been working with Syd for several years and dur- 
ing that time had been writing the part around him. When I 
came back to Hollywood he pressured me to play a role in 
his picture too, no matter how small. 

By this time he and Oona had four children, Geraldine, 
Michael, Josephine and little Victoria, who had been born 
just the previous spring. He was going to put the three older 
children in his picture along with Syd and me. He had a very 
sentimental reason for wanting to make Lhnelight what he 
called a family affair. He said he fully expected it to be his 
last as well as his greatest picture. As usual, he was back to 
retiring again, although speaking softly when he talked 
about it. 

“Well,” he would say, “I think your father is going to quit 
after this one. He’s getting old.” 

At sixty-three. Dad was beginning to joke a little about his 
age. It was obvious he was becoming conscious of it, though 
even then he didn’t attach too much importance to the num- 
ber of years he had lived. He has always been young in spirit 
and he likes youth, or at least people young in spirit, around 

The story of Limelight, which my father himself wrote, is 
in good part a symbolic autobiography in which he made 
ample use of the London music halls of his boyhood days. In 
it my father again played the role of a drunk, which had 
brought him to the attention of Hollywood when, back in 
1913, he did it touring the United States with the Kamo 
Company. But the characterization in Limelight is nostalgic 
rather than humorous. 

The story concerns an old pantomimist who, through his 
addiction to alcohol, loses his place in the theatrical world. 
A young girl whom he saves from suicide rehabilitates him. 
She loves him, but he cannot believe his good fortune and cn- 



courages the romance between her and a shy young musician. 

At the rime my father wrote the picture he had no female 
star in mind. 1 Ic decided on Claire Bloom at the last minute, 
because he felt he had put off production long enough. 

Filming of the picture started in early December of 1951. 
The shooting schedule had been fixed at thirty-six days, but 
it took fifty to complete. And now, at last, it was Syd’s 
and my turn to be targets of that drive for perfection which 
ever since our childhood we had seen focused upon others. 
After that experience 1 was more than ever convinced that 
my father’s towering reputation and his seething intensity 
make it almost impossible for those working under him to 
assert their own personality. No one in the world could direct 
my father as he directs himself, but I feel that lesser actors in 
his pictures might profit from being directed by someone else. 

With Syd and me he was, I believe, even more exacting 
than with the others. As his sons we could not appear to be 
favored, and so he went to the opposite extreme and even 
tended to make examples of us. He was especially tough on 
Syd as the young romantic lead, and sometimes I heard people 
around the set commiserating with him. But 1 never heard 
Syd himself complain. He kept his equanimity and learned 
from my father and was rewarded by being praised in the 
reviews for his fine performance. 

Now that Syd and I were older and were in our father’s 
profession as well, he began to confide in us more and to dis- 
cuss with us what he was actually trying to get across in his 
pictures. It was his basic philosophy of life and it all came 
back to the Little Tramp. He talked much of the Little 
Tramp those days, for the pantomimist of Limelight is really 
the Little Fellow — the Little Fellow grown older and wiser, 
and more melancholy. Dad feels that the Little Tramp sym- 
bolizes the Little Fellow of the world who is always trying to 
better himself but never quite succeeds at it, and who leaves 
the stage of life as sad as he appeared on it. The theme gives 
away my father’s own basic feeling of insecurity. Objectively 



he knows he is a great comedian. Objectively he has fame, 
wealth and the deep respect of his fellow craftsmen to back 
up this knowledge. Inwardly he is still the Little Fellow, with 
the unhappy feeling that he is something of a failure because 
he hasn’t accomplished all he wished to do in life. That feel- 
ing of regret is apparent in his pictures, so that even when one 
of them ends hapjtily it still c(«ivcys a sense of nostalgia and 
loss. It is the philosophy of a perfectionist who, try as he may, 
and work as hard as he can — as my father has certainly done 
all his life — still never achieves that final goal which seems 
always to hover tantalizingly just out of reach. 

So far as technique is concerned, my father is prone to 
imitate the stage. I Ic is a profound believer in showing the 
whole scene rather than a succession of close-ups, which he 
uses only when absolutely necessary. Close-ups, he used to 
explain, convey only an emotional elTect. But the main thing 
is to show the picture of life as a whole — a picture to which 
the indix'idual, no matter how important his role, merely con- 
tributes a share. 

Syd and 1 were both proud to have done a picture with our 
father, to be able to say that we were directed by the King of 
Comedy. Yet 1 cannot say mv sequence in IJincIijrht was my 
favorite actin<r bit. 1 enjoved more the comed\ lead in Oh, 
Mcnf Oh, Womeu! y hich 1 jtlayed on tour in the British 
Isles in 1956. But my favorite role has always been that of 
V^ictor, the French proprietor in All for Miiry, with Edward 
Fweretr Horton at the Pasadena in 1957. In that 
role I had a chance to exhibit m\' talents in my own way. And 
when I read Da\ id Bonganl’s review in the Los Angeles Her- 
ald Express, I had the jubilant feeling that I was really being 
judged on my own abilities. 

“A notable thing is the xvork of Charles Chaplin, Jr.,” Mr. 
Bongard wrote. “1 le’s a finished actor and displays a remark- 
able technical resemblance to the work of his comic father. 



Nothing mtcntional. Just a quick gesture here and a tvvVM 
of the eyebrow there.” 

This was nm'cious, for I kd never w.mred to be In com- 
petition with my father or ro spend my life mimicking him, 
though I have to some extent inherited his pantomiming mJ- 
ents as he inherited them from his mother, my grandmother. I 
have wanted only to be worthy of my name — the name of 
Chaplin that stands so high in the theatrical world. 1 was 
sorry my father could not see me in this role. 


I had brought a handicap back with me from my days in the 
anny. Liquor hadn’t been a problem to me during the war. I 
had drunk along with most of the other soldiers because I dis- 
covered that drinking relieves pressures. But in civilian life I 
suddenly found 1 was free, with no superior officers to answer 
to and no lifc-and-dcath duties to perform. 1 fell into the habit 
of indulging in alcohol as freely as I pleased. 

I don’t know why some people should find their refuge in 
drinking, while others are immune. 1 know we all have prob- 
lems that have to be solved, so it’s foolish to blame circum- 
stances. It’s something within us, something we don’t ask for 
— call it fate or allergy as you please — that creates an alcoholic 
situation for some of us. 



I had always thought of Syd as happy-go-lucky, but I dis- 
covered that he came out of the war with troubles, too, 
though drinking wasn’t one of them. He who had always 
been the life of everything suddenly found he couldn’t mingle 
with people. He w'ould go to a party and sit in a corner and 
never say a word the whole evening. 

When he got his first break on the stage, he rook his prob- 
lem to a psychiatrist. He wanted to pay for psychiatric treat- 
ment for me too, because he felt it had done him so much 

“Hell, Chuck,” he said, “I have all this money now. I can 
write it off my income rax.” 

I was deeply touched by Syd’s generosity and goodness. 
But I shook my head. Syd and 1 both have always been so 
independent, each in his own way. 

“No, Syd,” I said. “I’d rather take care of it myself. It 
wouldn’t help me any to sponge off you.” 

The public learned of my trouble — for the embarrassing 
part of an alcoholic problem is that it often makes a fool of 
you in front of the whole world — one New Year’s L'vc dur- 
ing the period I was studying at Actors Lab. 1 had a few too 
many and made the mistalvc of driving in that condition. I 
ended up in Lincoln I [eights jail in Los Angeles. All the 
bunks were taken, so I put a piece of newspaper on the floor 
and stretched out on it. I wanted to die ijuictly in the jail cell 
among all the other unfortunates locked up with me. They 
were suffering in blessed anonymity, but I knew even as I lay 
there in the dark that I wouldn’t be allowed that privilege. 

After about twenty minutes, just as I bad expected, all the 
lights went on. I could hear voices, feet, the clanking of doors. 
And suddenly about ten new.spapermen, with a police guide, 
appeared right outside the cell. They were there to get a story 
about me, not because I was anybody in my own right but I was the son of a famous man. 

I realized my offense was a bad one. I was ready to pay the 



penalty for it. But suddenly the unfairness of being singled 
out for added attention because my name was Chaplin filled 
me with blind fury. Normally I’m fond of newspapermen 
and a number of them are my good friends; I realize that a 
newspapemian has a job to do, too. But in that moment I 
hated them all. I began to call them every name I could think 
of, realizing all the time that 1 should control myself because 
I was at their mercy. But I just couldn’t hold back the words. 
In the form of imprecations I poured out all the blind, suffer- 
ing rage I felt, and in those moments I think I tasted to the 
dregs the terrible feeling of injustice my father had experi- 
enced when he was harried and ridiculed on the witness stand 
by Mr. Scott. There is no word to describe the blackness of 
that suffering, to be forced to stand without defense and be 
humiliated before your fellow man. 

“Listen, I know they’re going to make an example of me in 
c'ourt because of tlie heritage, whatever it is,” I cried out to 
them. “But w hy do 1 have to l)ear this too^” 

By this time 1 w'as threatening the photographers. But they 
only laughed at me and the policeman opened the doors and 
twisted iny arm behind niv hack to get one last picture of me 
looking like a dangerous criminal. 

1 had been hooked about two thirn^^ in the morning, and by 
the time a friend arranged hail for me and 1 was released it 
w as about six. I w ent out a free man, hut all the same I felt 
like a criminal. I .suffered terrible remorse, for mv experiences 
had sobered me. I wvilked around aimlessly, waiting for the 
papers to come out. I bought them all without even looking 
at them. 

“Something interesting happen?” the newsboy asked curi- 

“No, no,” I said, averting my face because I kneW' without 
looking I would be on the front page. 

I took all the papers and w ent to the office of my lawyer. 
Max Gilford. 1 looked a mess, unshaved and in my rumpled 


clothes. I told Max the situation. He tried to make me feel 

“Well, I know, I’ve been drunk too,” he said. “You have 
a hangover.” And he ordered coffee for me. 

While I drank the coffee we looked at the papers together. 
There I was on the front page with big headlines and a 
blown-up picture of me snarling behind bars like something 
in a zoo. Later I learned from Paulette that the story had 
made the papers even in France, where she was at the time. 

What I saw made me feel worse than ever. Max looked at 
me sympathetically. He told me to go home and come back 
and discuss the situation with him the next day. I explained 
to him that my monetary situation was very low. I had bought 
a house with the money from the savings account which my 
father had had put away for me until my twenty-first birth- 
day. And though I still received the proceeds from my trust 
fund, which amounted to some five hundred dollars a month, 
expenditures and debts of various kinds had sadly depleted 
this allowance. Max understood my situation. He told me not 
to w^orry, he would charge me only a fifty-dollar fee. 

I left his office and went home to my mother and grand- 
mother. They could see how I felt by how 1 looked, and tliey 
tried to chc'cr me up. But the worst hurdle was still ahead. 1 
had to face my father. I could just imagine how the whole 
thing had struck him. I pictured him calmly glancing over the 
papers as he did every morning while he had a cup of coffee. 
I could see him this morning staring at the headlines and the 
dreadful pictures, suddenly jumping to his feet, pacing the 
floor, gesticulating and declaiming about his errant son — hurt, 
angry, all in one. I low could I face him? 

I waited until late in the day, figuring he might have re- 
covered from the initial shock by that time, and then I phoned 
to ask if it was all right to come up. Of course it was. I 
shaved, showered and dressed and went to the house. I walked 
down the hall to the study. lie was waiting for me. He wasn’t 
ranting or raving. He was very quiet, almost expressionless in 
his calm. 



“Sit down, son,” he said. I sat down. He began to talk to 
me. He didn’t mention the headlines, or the disgrace, or those 
terrible photographs. But I saw he was very worried. 

“Drinking, you know, is quite bad, son,” he said gravely. 
“It killed your grandfather when he was in his thirties. I hope 
you don’t get like him. You know it hits you if you don’t 
watch it. 

“Of course,” he went on, “we all make mistakes and they 
didn’t treat you properly. But when you’re drinking you 
shouldn’t drive. You can get hurt that way. You can hurt 

Listening to him talk, hearing the genuine concern in his 
voice when I had expected criticism, only made my remorse 

“Well, I just feel terrible,” I confessed to him. 

What else could I say? 1 got up to go. Dad got up too. He 
came over and put his arm around me. 

“Don’t worry about it, Charles.” he said. “If you need any 
help, let me know.” 1 knew that he meant he would take care 
of the costs for me — the attorney, the fine — if I w^ould let him. 

I could have used his help. But it w as I who had got myself 
into the mess and I figured it was my job to take care of it. I 
told him so. 

“Okay, keep your nose clean,” he said, tr\ung to joke about 
it. But I could sec a look of respect in his eyes, because I had 
refused his offer and w^as willing to take the responsibility 
for my own mistakes. Suddenly I felt a lot better. 

My fine was a hundred and fifty dollars and I was put on 
probation for six months, during which time I wasn’t to be 
seen at any public bars. I borrowed the money from the bank 
to pay my fine. 

My father’s concern for me lingered on long after the inci- 
dent. I felt that he believed a w^eakness for drink is hereditary 
and that it had come to me from my grandfather and that I 
wasn’t altogether to blame. So he kept a lookout to help me 
guard against it. I remember one night, during the probation- 
ary period, drinking too much at a big party at his place. I 



wasn’t making a spectacle of myself, I was just sirring in a 
corner of the couch in a semi-doze, trying to make myself as 
inconspicuous as possible. 

The next day Dad brought it up. “Son, you were a litric 
high last night,” he told me reproachfully. “I was watching 

“I’m sorry, Dad,” 1 answered. “I hope I didn’t disgrace 
you.” I began to apologize profusely. 

“No, no, it was toward the end of the evening,” he assured 
me to make me feel better. “You didn’t make an ass of your- 
self. But after everyone left I had to help you up the stairs 
to your room. You were a little wobbly.” And again he re- 
minded me about my grandfather, who had died so young 
from drink. Always he remembered that. Always in his face 
was the grief and shock he must have felt long ago at the 
death of this man, at once so charming and so afflicted. 

I’m a periodic drinker. Only once at the very beginning of 
my career did I fall down on a job because of it. It was after 
a quarrel with the girl who was mv fiancee at the time. 1 drank 
too much and missed the plane to Boston, w^hcre I was to re- 
hearse for The Live Wire^ with Garson Kanin directing. I 
came in late in the afternoon. The rest of the cast had been at 
it all day and Kanin read me off in front of everyone. Of 
course I was terribly embarrassed, but I deserved it, so 1 
couldn’t very well resent his lecture, and we’re friends to 
this day. 

The next evening the stage manager, wlio w'as a good 
friend of mine, came up to me quickly and handed me my 
walking papers. But they were decent about it. I wasn’t re- 
ported to Actors Equity. I didn’t need that punishment. I 
was tortured with black remorse. 

“What will Dad think?” I wondered. But I don’t believe he 
ever heard about it. I was always grateful for that. He was 
so conscientious himself about his profession. It was mine, too, 
and it seemed to me I had failed both him and it. I was rc- 


C n A R f . I E CHAPLIN 

sponsible for a black mark against the family name that he 
had built up through the years with his hard, undivided devo- 
tion to work, ddiese were all the things 1 told myself after- 
wards. For days I didn’t know what to do with myself. I 
didn’t thinlc, I jusi sufTered. And I made uj^ my mind that 
from then on I would leave alcohol alone wlicn I was work- 
ing. I have kept that pledge to myself so well that today I 
have a good reputation for sobriety w^hile on a job. 

To me acting is a vocation, a genuine calling, the w^ork of 
creation. 'Thar feeling is w^hat put me in awx of my father 
from the time 1 was a small boy and it is the reason 1 always 
phoned him before going to see him. W’hcn I wTnt to New 
York, at the time my lirother S\ d was in Bells Are 
1 even called him up first, too, to be sure I w^ouldn’t be inter- 
rupting him at his work. 

‘A\dvat are you talking about. Chuck?” Syd shot back, 
astonished at the formalir\’. “Come on up, of course.” 

1 went up and congratulated him on his success, but he 
only deprecated the whole thing. 

“Aw% (duick, damn it,” he said, “I’m not an actor. I’m a 

“A businessman!” I exclaimed. I was really shocked because 
I wxis thinking of Syd as a line actor and here lie w^as talking 
about art as though it were a business. 

Syd is fortunate, of course, lie has the objectivitv^ I lack, 
though I don’t for one minute believe he looks on himself as 
just a businessman. Deep dow n I know' he is proud that everv^- 
one else says he’s an artist. 

It’s my idealization of the acting profession that occasion- 
ally causes me trouble. 1 don’t need it for a livelihood. 1 have 
three sipiare meals a day from the proceeds of my trust fund. 
But I want more than this out of life. I want to achieve some- 
thing worthwhile as an actor. And so when things arc low 
and tough and it seems I’m getting no place in my career, 
when I have no answer if people ask, “What arc you doing 
now% Charlie?” then is w hen 1 drink. 



Being the son and namesake of a famous actor, especially if 
you want to be an actor yourself, has its drawbacks. You 
can’t start fresh like other beginners, because you’re already 
well known, even though you haven’t done a thing to earn it. 
From the very beginning you run into ridiculous comparisons 
that can stymie you. 

There was, for instance, the time I had an appointment with 
Theron Bamberger, the producer, to audition for a part in a 
play at the Bucks County Playhouse in Pennsylvania. I went 
into Mr. Bamberger’s New York office for the interview and 
he kept me cooling my heels for more than half an hour. 
Finally, when I was called in, I found him with a paper spread 
open in front of his face. He didn’t put it down or greet me or 
even look around it at me. For a while he didn’t so much as 
speak; then he asked from behind the paper, “Are you as 
great as he is?” 

What kind of answer could you give to a question like 
that? I just turned and walked out without a word. I heard 
him calling after me, but I didn’t once look back. 

For a number of years I have found myself having to face 
an additional handicap where my own particular name is con- 
cerned. It’s the Communist label that was tagged on my father 
and that somehow seems to have carried over to me, frighten- 
ing off producers who might otherwise be interested in me. 
Perhaps Sydney was wiser than I when he went to New York 
and concentrated on the stage. Fortunately, stage producers 
aren’t so sensitive to mass public opinion as those of the film 
and TV industries. Out here, when my father left the coun- 
try under a cloud and his pictures were boycotted, the name 
Charles Chaplin was considered poison at the box office. Yet 
I stayed on in Hollywood because it’s my home and I like it, 
and I kept hoping to get that break that would vindicate me 
in my own right. But I can’t say my choice hasn’t made things 
tough for me. 

I’m always asked the question. “Are you a Communist like 
your father? ” the brash ones say. 



This infuriates me, for I’ve never given anyone the slightest 
cause to doubt my loyalty to the United States. I willingly 
fought for my country in the last war and, if necessary, I 
would do so again against any enemy. 

Other people put the question more fairly. “Is your father 
really a Communist?” they say, and they’re the ones who are 
interested in hearing my side of the case. 

I used to go into long, heated explanations about why he 
wasn’t. But if you meet enough people and try to answer 
everyone, you spend the rest of your life explaining things. 
Now I have a different approach. 

“Look, I think that’s really a silly question,” I’ll tell them. 
“Why don’t you look up the facts and figure it out for your- 
self? But if you want a short, straightforward answer, I’ll 
tell you myself right now — he’s not and he never was.” 


How did my father ever come to be considered a (^ommii- 
nisr, or even a fellow traveler? This is the second chief iron',- 
of his long career, just as getting labeled an initnoral philan- 
derer was the first. 

David Raksin, who liked to think of himself in the thirties 
as a socialist, laughs when he recalls how his political views, 
mild though they were, were a bit too much for Dad. and 
how Dad used to twit him about them. When 11 . H. A\'ells 
came to this country in 1936, Dad even put the great novelist 
up to needling Raksin about his politics. 

“Old man,” Wells said in dignified British accents when 
they first met, “1 hear you’re rather pink.” 

“It depends on what you mean,” Raksin replied, wary of 
being kidded. 



“I mean it’s a nice old-fashioned color,” Wells replied tol- 
erantly, while Dad smiled gleefully at David’s discomfort. 

But though Dad took flat exception to David’s socialist 
views, he has always been sincere about his concern for the 
little man, as he demonstrated in his treatment of his own 
studio workers. He has always felt that the degradation of the 
very poor is the crudest of all suffering. 1 remember how 
horrified he was by the wretched poverty he saw in India 
during his travels there, and how admiringly he spoke of 
Mahatma (jandhi, wlio joined with the outcasts when he 
could have lived a very comfortable life. Gandhi, he said, was 
not only one of the most brilliant men he’d ever met, but one 
of the most godlike as w ell. 

Similarly my father at one rime admired Ramsay Mac- 
Donald for showing interest in the rights of the common man. 
But during his trip to Rngland in 1931, Dad paid a visit to 
MacDonald on his estate. Wdiile he was there he saw the 
Prime Minister unceremoniously order (dT a few people who 
were enjoying a picnic in a remote section of his grounds. 
My father, whose chief fault in the political field is perhaps 
that of being an idealist in this age of expediency, w^as scan- 
dalized. 1 le would no longer have anything to do with Mac- 
Donald or even allow his picture to be taken with him. 

My father’s other deep conviction is that peace should 
somehow^ be brought to the whole world. lie is almost a 
fanatic on this subject. 

“Why can’t \\c take all the leaders of the different coun- 
tries who are opposing each other in w^ar, strip them dowm to 
their trunks, put them in a ring and let them fight it out?” he 
used to say to me wdaimsically. “You w^ould see all shapes and 
sizes — short and tall, lean and pot-bellied and knock-kneed — 
everj^thing. And it would be such a ridiculous sig!it it w^ould 
end strife right there.” 

Because he feels that nationalism engenders w ars, my father 
has always been against drilling children in superpatriotism. 
He maintains that it only causes them to look dowm on those 
of other races and nations and that this results in nationalist 



states like Nazi Germany, That is why he likes to refer to 
himself as an internationalist. He had a deep admiration for 
Wendell Willkie, the 1940 Republican Presidential nominee, 
for his strong advocacy of a One World policy. 

Outside these convictions my father’s “politics” are ex- 
tremely catholic. He will go through the various world sys- 
tems, picking out the high points in each. On the one hand 
he used to praise Hitler’s early concern for the common man 
and his interest in public works. On the other he approved of 
the way the Russians kept their artists from the front lines 
and generously subsidized them. It was only after the war 
that he realized the Communists, while carefully nurturing 
the physical welfare of their creative geniuses, were forcing 
them to direct their talents to propaganda purposes. And he 
became as disillusioned with them as he had been earlier with 
Prime Minister MacDonald. From the Far East he borrowed 
the peaceful mysticism of Buddhism to add to his potpourri, 
and his attachment to England has always been warm and 
sentimental. His roots are sunk too deep in the suffering of the 
Kennington slums to let him cast himself adrift from the an- 
chorage of those squalid streets that gave him the symbol of 
the Little Tramp. 

As for the United States, perhaps my father idealized this 
nation more than any other. He loved it — the people as a 
whole and individually, his house on the hill, the first real 
home he had ever possessed. He always felt he belonged here 
in America, with its promise of freedom in thought and belief 
and its emphasis on the importance of the individual. 

My father enjoyed cementing together the odds and ends 
he had collected from various countries to create magnificent 
but utterly impractical utopias. This is his “[)olitics,” the 
fanciful, idealistic “politics” of an artist, which always de- 
lighted such seasoned statesmen as Sir Winston Churchill and 
President Roosevelt. He never preached his “politics” to Syd 
and me — he left us as free in that field as he did in the re- 
ligious one — but he vastly enjoyed discussing his ideas with 



US and with anyone else who would listen. And since many 
of his theories seemed so outlandish to others, he could always 
count on stirring up a hornet’s nest with them. Dad found an 
intellectual excitement in this kind of play. 

For play it often was with him. I’ve heard him with mock 
seriousness arguing opposite sides of the same question within 
an hour with different people, just to test his ability to sway 
them to his side. To him this matching of wits was like an 
agile game of tennis, with words taking the place of the ball. 

Sometimes, carried away by his enthusiasm, he would make 
high-flown statements which, after sober reflection, he was 
the first to discard. This put him in a dilemma, because he was 
so stubborn he could never bring himself to make retractions, 
especially to outsiders. But sometimes he would come close 
to it with Syd and me. 

“Well, boys. I’ve changed my ideas about that setup I was 
discussing with you yesterday,” he would say sometimes, 
chuckling deprecatinglv as he always did when he had to beat 
a cautious retreat. “It’s really not as good as I thought it was. 
As a matter of fact, it’s terrible.” 

Another trait of my father’s that was to cause him trouble 
during this period of his life is his intense curiosity about 
people, any kind of people. He liked occasionally to pay a 
visit to Skid Row in Los Angeles, and he would start his 
preparations several days in advance by allowing his beard to 
grow. In shabby clothes, to complcrc his disguise, he re- 
mained, so far as I know, unrecognized during these visits. 

Somerimes when I was older I accompanied him. The 
chauffeur would drive us downtown and drop us off. From 
then on we were on our own. Dad ^vould saunter around the 
grimy streets that perhaps reminded him of the London slums, 
and go into bars and sip a drink while he watched the people 
around him and listened avidlv to their conversations. 

He was always interested in unusual people. He liked to 
brag about having once made the acquaintance of gangsters. 

“Of course,” he explained, “I’m so well known, and many 



of these people in the underworld admire the creative prin- 
ciple. They were so touched at meeting me that they even put 
their sendees at my disposal.” 

My father became very dramatic as he described the scene 
for me and repeated the gangsters’ exact words: ‘‘Anyone, 
Charlie, if you want him out of the way, we’ll take care of 
him for you. Just say the word.” 

Dad was fascinated by the gangsters, with their strange, 
perverted devotion to the creative, though he was more than 
glad to let them alone after their kind offer. 

A\’ith this sort of curiosity about people, it isn’t surprising 
that my father’s tastes were completely heterogeneous w here 
guests were concerned. A person who was interestii'ig wms 
alw'ays welcome at his home, regardless of political afTiliations. 
His visitors included Republicans, Democrats, Socialists, 
and pinks w ithout discrimination. As a matter of fact, though, 
there were very few Communists among the thousands who 
came to see my father during the last ten years of his residence 
here. There were many more pinks, because at that time the 
hue was considered rather fashionable. My father enjoyetl 
their company nor because of their politics, but because they 
had something creative to offer. 

He deeply admired 1 lenry A. Wallace, w ho came up to 
play tennis w'ith him once. Harr\' Hridges and Paul Robeson 
w^erc both guests at his place. And w hen the Dean of ("anter- 
bur^^ the Very Reverend 1 lewlett Johnson, known as the Red 
Dean because of his far-leftist view^s, visited this countiw, he 
too w as entertained by my father, wdio considered him a very 
brilliant man. 

My father’s most controversial guest w-as I lanns f'isler, the 
composer. It made little difference to Dad that 1 lanns kisler 
was the brother of Gerhard Kisler, w ho is now' a propaganda 
leader in Cast Germany. He never inquired w hether Haims 
Eisler himself was a Communist. He saw in Kisler only a tal- 
ented musician who had fallen upon hard times. My father 



ignored public opinion to help him, for he could never bear 
to sec talent of any kind suffering deprivation. 

This has always been a consistent characteristic of my fath- 
er’s personality. When Bill 1 ilden, the great tennis champion, 
was released from prison, where he had served a sentence on a 
morals conviction, he was almost destitute. Because of the 
nature of his offense it was imjtossible for him to get a job, 
and most of his fonner friends shunned him. Mr. Tilden had, 
in happier days, been a welcome visitor at my father’s house. 
Dad had admired him as a true tennis genius, and because of 
this genius he felt obligated to help him. Dad never thought of 
protecting his own reputation. I !e lent his tennis court to Mr. 
Tilden, enabling him not only to keep up his practice but to 
earn a living by giving lessons. My father even bought a hun- 
dred and fifty dollars’ worth of lessons for Oona. 

Personally, Mr. 'I'ilden, who was something of an autocrat, 
wasn’t an easy man to help. 1 le took over my father’s court so 
completely that Dad himself had to ask pcmiission to use it. 

1 le was also alwa\'s having to straighten out arguments be- 
tween his butler and the cantankerous Tilden, who became so 
difficult at last that most people would have thrown him out. 
My father only shrugged off’ his behavior with a laugh. 

“(lod damn it,” he said, “that’s just the wav I am with my 
work. W hen I’m in there 1 don’t care who it is or what 
they’re doing, I won’t be bothered. I understand that in liim.” 

It was the opinion of the columnists around town at the 
time that the spotlight focused on mv father by the Joan 
Barry case was <ircath' responsible for making him look sus- 
pect in the Held of politics also. For years Dad had been voic- 
ing his rather fancied and sometimes very radical solutions to 
the world’s problems without anyone’s taking him seriously. 

So far as 1 can ascertain, the first blunt accusation voiced 
against him was during the Mann Act trial. It was then that 
the Dies Committee investigating un-American activities first 
took my father to task for his second front speech in New 




York back in 1942. By that time the second front advocated 
by my father had already been established and Russia was 
still our ally, so that accusation didn’t carry much weight. But 
in 1945, between the two paternity trials, a second thrust was 
made against my father, this time from Senator William 
Langer, who said that he was going to introduce legislation 
to deport my father as an undesirable alien on moral grounds. 
The Department of Justice immediately replied that the exist- 
ing law was adequate to deport my father if he were guilty of 
anything, but that there was not sufficient evidence to war- 
rant such deportation. 

In the spring of 1946 an incident occurred which again 
roused suspicions about mv father's jKjlirical affiliations. Kon- 
stantin Simonov, the Soviet poet and playwright who had 
been visiting Hollywood under the auspices of our own State 
Department, had enjoyed the hospitality of my father, of 
Lewis Milestone, the director, and of the late John Garfield 
Before leaving, Mr. Simonov reciprocated their kindness by 
inviting them to a banquet aboard the Soviet tanker, tlic 
S.S. Batumi, then in Long Beach harbor. All three men ac- 
cepted the invitation. Certainly it would have been a breach 
of both etiquette and international good will to have refused. 

In the Calmer atmosphere that prevails today, the impor- 
tance that was attached to this incident appears somewhat 
foolish. At the moment our diplomatic status with Russia is 
the same as it was at the time of the Simonov incident in 1946, 
yet no one in this country is critici/xd now for visiting Russia 
itself, much less a Soviet tanker off our own shore. Indeed, 
the politically wise United States citi/cn, regardless of party, 
must derive some amusement over the identity of some of our 
top government officials who have since cavorted so cordially 
with Russian leaders here and on their own soil. Some of these 
officials are from the same camp that so mercilessly plagued 
my father for his “one-world” attitude in 1946. 

My father has never made a single trip to Russia, and yet 
his casual visit with a Russian poet seemed to many people 
sure proof of Communist sympathy. Much was made of it in 



the papers at the time. And Jack B. Tenney, a California state 
senator, assigned two investigators to the job of finding out 
if anything un-American had been going on. 

When the press called upon Milestone, Garfield and my 
father for comment, both Milestone and Garfield responded 
with reasonable statements. My father refused to make any 
comment. This brings us to another trait of his which has 
caused him a great deal of trouble. It is his lack of rapport 
with newspapermen. Me has always been honestly afraid of 
the press because of the power it holds. Tve never seen him so 
nervous as when preparing for an interview. 

I remember the time some years ago when it was arranged 
for Louella Parsons to come by Black -Foxe, pick me up and 
take me out with her to the San Fernando Valley, w^here I 
was to meet Dad at a party. Dad anxiously coached me in 
what I should and shouldn’t say during the long ride I was to 
make with her alone. I was still very young and he wanted 
to be sure I kept a discreet tongue in my head. 

'‘Remember, son,” he told me apprehensively, “she’s a col- 
umnist and a very brilliant reporter. Try to give her short 
answTrs, no more than yes and no if you can help it.” 

I w'asn’t too impressed with Miss Parsons’ reportorial abil- 
ities that day. She asked me a lot of questions but just in a 
nice, friendly way. She scarcely looked at me and seemed to 
pay little attention to my replies. She didn’t take a single note. 
I couldn’t understand why my father was so anxious about 
this perfectly innocuous conversation. But he met me at the 
party, took me aside and questicuicd me carefully about all 
the details. 1 thought he was making a lot of to-do about 
nothing until the next day 1 found mv interview with Miss 
Parsons printed w^ord for word, just as it had taken place. I 
realized then why my father had such a healthy respect for 
the newspaper profession. 

Added to my father’s natural reticence where reporters are 
concerned was his feeling that a good part of the press had 
turned against him after the paternity trials. It began to seem 
to him that reporters weren’t trying to look at his side, but 



were deliberately lifting things he said out of context, chang- 
ing the emphasis on others and sometimes even misquoting 
him. The breach between him and the press grew progres- 
sively wider and finally resolved itself in open hostility at a 
time when, more than any other, he was in need of good 
publicity. My father began to react in much the same way 
to reporters as he had on the witness stand under Mr. Scott’s 
goading. Sometimes in the heat of anger he would state his 
case badly and then refuse to make any retractions. Actually, 
he was never fighting for the truth of what he was saying, 
but for the basic right to say what he pleased. 

“A democracy is a place,” my father pointed out, “where 
you can express your ideas freely — or it isn’t a democracy.” 

Granted that, as the world’s foremost pantomimist, my 
father is far more eloquent with his hands than his tongue, 
still, most of the replies he made to the criticisms which were 
leveled at him just after the war make sense when looked at 
in the more reasonable light of today. 

His second front speeches, he explained, had been de- 
livered at a time when close cooperation with Russia as our 
ally was imperative. I Ic had merely been trying to help along 
relations between the two countries and he felt that his activi- 
ties in this fine had been helpful. 

He had not become a citi/xn because he considered himself 
an internationalist, and because he did not wish to relinquish 
citizenship in the land of his birth. But he gave close friends 
who kept importuning him to relieve the pressure by becom- 
ing naturalized one more cogent reason for refusing. 

“They are holding a gun at my back now. 1 can’t do it,” he 
said stubbornly. 

To his critics my father pointed out that though he was 
not a citizen he was “a very good paying guest.” I know for 
a fact that he poured millions of tax dollars into the United 
States treasury during his residence here. But at the time his 
statement was regarded as a smug dodge. People resented his 
explanations that though he derived only thirty percent of 
his income from the United States and seventy percent from 



abroad, he paid taxes to Unde Sam on the entire hundred per- 

In the aftennath of the war his discussion of taxes in gen- 
eral was a sore point. He was quickly reminded that others 
had not only paid their raxes but had sacrificed their lives on 
the battlefronts as well. No one seemed to remember that 
though my father was too old for the front, he had gladly 
given his two sons to the war. lie used to brag about our sol- 

“I’m British but my sons are American,” he would say 
proudly whenever he introduced us to anyone. “They were 
soldiers and fought at the front.” 

My father was challenged as well about the extent of his 
war efforts, which were compared unfavorably with Bob 
Hope’s. Hope had traveled far and wide to entertain the 
troops. My father had done no entertaining at all. 

“My type of artistry doesn't lend itself as readily as others 
to direct entertainment,” he responded. 

This again was a simple statement of fact, but it sounded 
like a feeble excuse because most people do not realize that 
there actually are two t\^pcs of comedians. Only the stand-up 
comic like I lope can carry off the kind of impromptu enter- 
tainment that was demanded in the army camps. For my 
father, who was at his best among a circle of close friends, to 
come out cold before a strange audience and be funny was ex- 
cruciating torture, with the dread of almost certain failure. 

I le tried it once at the request of the bead of the personnel 
division of one of the big aircraft corporations near Los An- 
geles. One noon in the company’s open-air theater where all 
the workers w^erc gathered with their lunches, he laid, I think, 
the biggest egg of his career. No one laughed, no one clapped, 
apparently no one was even watching him. Everyone was too 
busy eating. My father came out of that experience unnerved 
and shaking. 

“I’ll never do it again, never,” he said. “I can’t. It’s not my 
kind of entertaining.” 

My father pointed out, however, that he had donated his 



time freely to the government and had made a number of 
sjieechcs at its request. By this time, though, his speeches had 
become suspect and he was scarcely given credit for this f)it of 
war effort. 

To questions as to whether he was a Communist or a Com- 
munist sympathizer my father gave an unequivocal “No!” but 
he couldn’t refrain from adding whimsically, “Life is so tech- 
nical today. If you step off the curb with your left foot you’re 
accused of being a Communist.” 

When he was questioned about Hanns F.isler he admitted to 
a warm friendship with the composer, but vehemently as- 
serted he would never have anything to do with spies or 
treachery. Yet despite these forthright statements and explana- 
tions, the resentment toward my father and the belief that he 
was a Communist, or at least tainted with Communist associa- 
tions, continued to grow. 

One has to remember the conditions of the rimes to under- 
stand how this came about. With the close of the war Russia 
was no longer our ally but a large and powxrful nation that 
deliberately broke the treaties we had made with licr in gooii 
faith. We were so frightened by her sinister proportions that 
we forgot the wise counsel President Roosevelt once gave, 
“There is nothing to fear but fear itself.” W’e became appre- 
hensive that Russian agents were secretly undermining our 
institutions, and a great many things that had formerly seemed 
quite harmless now began to look suspect to us. 'Lhe Un- 
American Activities Committee, in its search for (iommunisrs, 
started to interest itself actively in the entertainment world. 
It was not to be supposed that my father would escape their 
careful scrutiny. 

In December of 1946 it was announced by I'.rnic Adamson, 
chief counsel for the committee, that my father would be 
subpoenaed to testify at public hearings in Washington, to- 
gether with Will Rogers, Jr., and James Roosevelt. But six 
months later he had not been called and no specific charges 
had been brought against him. 



Yet he was still being made the subject of controversy. He 
even provided the piece de resistance of a heated debate in 
Washington, D.C., that June of ’47. Representative John F 
Rankin of Mississippi went so far as to refer to his pictures 
as “loathsome.” Representative Chet Holifield of California 
came to the defense of Hollywood in general, but was cut 
short by Representative Joseph Martin for referring to the 
committee as the Un-American Committee. 

By July of that year my father was e.xasperated beyond 
measure over a broadcast by Ily Gardner on N.B.C. Charg- 
ing that it was full of innuendoes that he was a Communist 
and a liar, he immediately filed a thrce-million-dollar damage 
suit in federal court. But my father’s spirited aetion did little 
to clear his name, especially as that same month Representative 
J. Parnell Thomas declared my father would be subpoenaed to 
appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee 
in Washington. For months afterwards the same nebulous 
rumor that he was on the verge of being called kept cropping 
up. Kach time it did so it seemed to add a little more weight to 
the belief that he was a Communist or at least a fellow traveler. 

In November, 1947, my father made one of those equivocal 
moves which cast a further cloud on his associations. When 
deportation proceedings against Hanns Eisler were at their 
height he cabled Pablo Picasso asking him to head a committee 
of French artists to protest to the American Embassy in Paris 
“the outrageous deportation proceedings against Hanns Eisler 
here, and simultaneouslv send me copy of protest for use 
here.” I doubt if the incongruity of asking a confinned Com- 
munist to intercede for a man being accused of communism 
in a noncomniunist country ever even entered my father’s 
head. He was an artist appealing to another artist to come to 
the aid of a third But to many people his move smacked 
of insolence, and the newspapers roundly castigated him for 
his lack of etiquette rather than for any subversion. How 
could you call such an open move subversive? 

In March of 19491 Oona gave birth to her third child. 



Columnists expressed surprise at the length and very apparent 
harmony of this marriage, which should have done much to 
erase the ugly picture that had been painted of my father at 
the paternity trials. But apparently that picture had been too 
deeply etched to be expunged so quickly, and added to it now 
was the stigma of his alleged subversiveness. 

In April of 1949 my father seemed to provide further proof 
of his inclinations to the left by lending his name as a sponsor 
of the Communist-organized World Peace Congress. Again, 
with his characteristic disregard for politics or “isms,” he was 
attracted only to the words “world peace.” He explained that 
he believed any move toward peace should be encouraged, no 
matter by whom it was sponsored. 

That same April, Senator Patrick A. McCarran, chairman 
of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked for legislation to 
expel subversive aliens from the United States. And Senator 
Harry P. Cain made it plain who was included by saying out- 
right that the bill would provide for the expulsion of my 
father, who, he maintained, had been guilty of treason in 
sending the cablegram to Picasso. 

Early in 1951, shortly before Oona had her fourth child. 
Representative Harold H. Velde announced again that my 
father was being investigated by the Un-American Activities 
Committee. If my father had been guilty of any subversion, 
no matter how minor, the committee’s numerous investigations 
would surely have unearthed it and by this time he would 
have been called on the mat at once. But he never was called 
up because he had done nothing. He hadn’t contributed to 
any front groups, had attended no cell meetings and had 
openly repudiated all political organizations of a subversive 
nature. There was never anything against him but the rumor. 

My father would have welcomed the opportunity to clear 
his name. As I recall, he even contacted Washington at one 
time, asking to be allowed to testify. But he was ignored. 

“They don’t call me because they have nothing on me,” 



he confided to me. “I am simply not a Communist and never 
have been.” 

My father wasn’t the only one in Hollywood being inves- 
tigated in those days. A score of film-land personalities were 
brought to the witness stand and subjected to questioning 
under the spotlight of television coverage, and many others 
besides my father were named as suspects but never given the 
chance to appear before the committee and clear their reputa- 
tions. Only a very few leftists were actually unearthed, but 
some careers were damaged beyond repair by the public in- 
vestigations and many others were forced into temporary 

Of course the entertainment world did not suffer alone 
under the wave of near-hysteria that, aggravated by the so- 
called police action in Korea, swept over our nation. During 
that period talented scientists, diplomats and educators, as 
well as many minor government workers, were harried or 
driven out of service. The tide was to abate only with the 
formal Senate censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 
autumn of 1954. 

During that period of grueling investigations a pall hung 
over Hollywood. Those in the entertainment world depend 
to a vital extent on public opinion for their livelihood, and 
most of the suspects named by the committee chose to suffer 
in silence and to keep themselves as inconspicuous as possible. 
It seemed the expedient thing to do. Not so with my father. 
As one of the most controversial individualists in the world, 
he spoke out loudly for the rights of the individual. Somehow 
it seems fitting that his fight should have been staged in this 
country, which has always prided itself on fostering indi- 
vidualism as against statism. Dad just couldn t be silenced 
from voicing at all times his stubborn conviction that in a 
democracy one should have the right to think as one pleases 
and to see whom one chooses so long as no harm is being done. 
You might say he fought primarily because he suffers from 
mental claustrophobia. He simply cannot bear to be shut up 



in a closet of proscription on thought. It stifles and oppresses 
him beyond endurance. 

It must not be supposed that my father’s fight for his con- 
victions was made without sacrifice. When I came back from 
the East to play my part in Limelight I was saddened to see 
the effect his stand had had on his own life. It was no longer 
considered a privilege to be a guest at the home of Charlie 
Chaplin. Many people were actually afraid to be seen there 
lest they, too, should become suspect, 

Tim Durant, the irreconcilable Yankee, solid as a New 
England rock in his loyalty, was around, and he did his best 
to bring back some of the old life, noting the irony the while. 
Once his phone had rung steadily with people calling him, 
offering him favors, wining him, dining him in the hope that 
he would extend them an invitation to the Chaplin home. Now 
it was Tim’s turn to phone them and beg them to come up for 
a game of tennis. But they all backed out. The little tennis 
house and green lawn where once my father had held a gra- 
cious court were practically deserted on Sunday afternoons. 
I think my father must have been the loneliest man in Holly- 
wood those days. 

It was in that spirit, a spirit of haunting farewell, that he 
commenced Work on Limelight, the nostalgic story of a pan- 
tomimist who had once been widely acclaimed but had fallen 
in later years into disfavor and eclipse. 


On August 4, 1952, my father held his first preview of Lime- 
llght. It was a private showing for two hundred people. Such 
well-known film personalities as David Selznick and die late 
IJumpltrcy Bogart and Ronald Colman came that night to 
pay tribute to him. I'hcn, as now, my father was respected in 
Hollywood’s inner circle as one of the town’s authentic gen- 
iuses. But the audience also included a number of workers 
who had served my father loyally since the Gold Rush days. 

Dad was on edge with excitement, as he always was before 
previewing one of his pictures. When the film ended he got up 
to make a short speech. He went only as far as the phrase, “I 
do want to say thank you . . 

“No! No!” a woman in the audience suddenly cried out. 
“Thank you!” 



“Thank you! Thank you!” the cry was taken up by every- 
one until the room rang. It was the last accolade my father 
was to hear in Hollywood. And it was such an electric dem- 
onstration that columnist Sidney Skolsky described it as “the 
most exciting night I had ever spent in a projection room.” 

At the completion of Livielight, my father and Oona began 
to make plans for a vacation in Europe with their four chil- 
dren. Dad did so reluctantly; he was worried about leaving 
the country before his name was completely cleared. But 
Oona had never seen Europe and was as excited as a child at 
the prospect, and he did not want to disappoint her. 

The night before they left, Tim Durant gave a farewell 
party in the back yard of his Beverly Hills home. It was an au- 
thentic clambake and all the fifty or sixty guests came in in- 
formal attire except Marlon Brando, who wore a dinner 
jacket. It is one of the few times Hollywood has seen Brando 
in formal dress, and he donned it out of admiration for my 

That night Artur Rubinstein, who is a wonderful raconteur 
and pantomimist himself, held the floor most of the evening. 
A short man with a big front and little hands, he talked wittily 
about his travels in the Far East and did an imitation of the 
Kabuki players whom he had just seen in Japan. Imitating 
those players had always been my father’s forte, but this 
evening he was strangely quiet and preoccupied. It was the 
first time 1 could remember that he hadn’t been animated at 
a party. His air of sadness seemed to cast a shadow over the 
whole gathering, which even Mr. Rubinstein’s gaiety could 
not lift. 

Only once did my father’s old brilliance as an entertainer 
among his friends shine forth that evening. He and Katherine 
Dunham, the great dancer-choreographer, suddenly began to 
dance together, and their performance was .so striking that 
almost at once everyone stopped to watch. My father was 
taking on Miss Dunham’s gestures and mannerisms, yes, even 
her personality. He seemed to be Miss Dunham, his every 



movement flowing with her feline grace and fluidity. It was 
the most extraordinary exhibition of pantomime any of us had 
ever seen, and some of us watched with a lump in the throat. 

Was that amazing performance my father’s swan song to 
the city he had chosen to make his home for so many years? 
It was the last that anyone in 1 lolly wood w^as to sec of the 
priceless entertainment with which lie had graced so many 
parties in the past. 

The next morning Tim Durant drove Dad and Oona and 
the four children to the train at Union Station in Los An«gcles. 
On the way my father suddenly turned to Tim, and\im 
saw there were tears in his eyes. 

“You know, Tim,” he said, “1 have a presentiment I’m never 
coming back.” 

“That’s nonsense, Charlie,” Tim scoffed. 

Dad just shook his head. “Yes, I really feel that,” he insisted. 

He boarded the train and it truly w as his last day in Cali- 
fornia. But the melancholy premonition could not have 
troubled him before those final days here, because in the 
months past he and Oona had spent a lot of money, about 
fifty thousand dollars, fixing up the house. It w^as as though 
they had meant to live there forever. The changes were more 
widespread than any Paulette had ever dreamed of accom- 
plishing. The wide, majestic hall had been roofed over at the 
second-story level to provide additional bedrooms for the 
growing family. My father w'as so proud of these rooms he 
liked to take his guests upstairs to show' them off. 

I wonder if that morning of his departure he didn’t make a 
last-minute pilgrimage through all the rooms, new and old, 
of the house in which he had lived for close to thirty years. 
Did he pause longest in his familiar bedroom with the thread- 
bare carpet — even Oona hadn’t been able to persuade him to 
part with it! Did he make a last visit to his private woods, his 
swimming pool and tennis court at the foot of the stepped 
lawn? He had always marveled at having liis own pool and 



court. Six acres isn’t much of an estate for a multimillionaire, 
but he was proud of it. 

So he bade all things his last farewell: his home, his hill, 
the town where he had found his fame and made a name for 
himself, and finally the very country where he had once 
dreamed of raising hogs in Arkansas. On September 17 he 
embarked for England on the Queen Elizabeth. 

As soon as the Queen Elizabeth was well at sea. Attorney 
General James P. McGranery rescinded my father’s re-entry 
permit and announced that a hearing was being set to see 
whether he was readmissible under the immigration laws. It 
was an extraordinary act, for the permit had been approved 
before my father left. Everything had been declared in order. 
Taxes had been paid up and, in 1948, he had been thoroughly 
investigated and cleared of all subversive and immorality 
charges by both the Immigration Service and the Justice De- 

Why did McGranery make this ill-advised move, wliich 
was to put the United States in a very bad light abroad? 
Among Dad’s friends it was generally helicved that the At- 
torney General had acted simply for political reasons. 

The rescinding of the permit came as a shock to my father. 
From aboard the Queen Elizabeth he at once gave out a state- 
ment: “Through proper procedure I applied for a re-entry 
permit which I was given in good faith and which I accepted 
in good faith. Therefore I assume that the United States will 
recognize its validity.” 

The following day the Justice Department, perhaps to 
vindicate itself, indicated it had new facts on my father to 
back up its move. “There is plenty of information available,” 
a spokesman for the department asserted point-blank. 

Two days later Dad, arriving at Cherbourg, France, gave 
out another statement which began: “I have no particular 
political opinions. I love liberty, for which I could not be 
criticized in any democratic country.” 



In a speech on Oct. 2, a little more than a week later, At- 
torney General McGranery labeled my father an “unsavory 
character, but did not back up this derogatory statement 
with any of the facts his department claimed to possess. My 
father responded with another press statement: “I do not wish 
to comment on these vague accusations which, strangely 
enough, Mr. McGranery has seen fit to publicize while I am 
three thousand miles away from the United States. 

“I again reiterate that through the proper channels I applied 
for and was given a re-entry permit by the government of the 
United States.” 

By this time the American Legion had adopted a resolution 
commending Mr. McGranery’s action. But many other citi- 
zens, both those who admired my father and those who dis- 
liked him, felt the Attorney General had exceeded his rights 
in taking away the permit at a time when my father was un- 
able to defend himself. Mary Pickford, who is far to the right 
in her political views, ably expressed the sentiments of these 
people when she said that it was “beneath the dignity of the 
great United States.” 

Meanwhile, over in Europe, Dad was being accorded a 
hero’s welcome. Throngs greeted him in his native England 
and later all across the Continent. He was received by the 
Queen of England. President Auriol of France made him an 
officer of the Legion of Honor, the highest accolade in the 
power of that nation to bestow. And President Luigi Einaudi 
of Italy gave him a special audience and presented him with a 
gold medal on behalf of Premier dc Gasperi. 

It seemed that Europe was taking the occasion, not only 
to honor a famous man, but also to show up what was re- 
garded over there as America’s unjust treatment of him. And 
of course Fravda, the official Russian newspaper, took the op- 
portunity to get in a gibe at us. Though there was much in 
my father’s films that was not progressive, it said, the Chaplin 
case fully demonstrated the American government’s demand 
that every actor and actress in motion pictures either put his 



talent in the service of war propaganda or face incessant per- 
secution. We had earned ourselves a black eye everywhere 

If the Attorney General had any proof to vindicate his 
move, surely now was the time to come forward with it. In- 
stead of doing this he called in the F.B.I. and asked it to con- 
duct another investigation into my father’s private life, though 
that ground had been carefully covered before, when the 
Mann Act charge was filed. But the F.B.I. undertook the as- 
signment again with all the thoroughness which has earned 
it a well-deserved reputation around the world. 

After talking to the people who were questioned out here, I 
have come to the conclusion that the F.B.I. agents spent little 
time looking into my father’s alleged political activities. And 
this could only mean he had come out of all the previous in- 
vestigations bone-clean. The questioning centered primarily 
on his morals. 

Most of the principals in the Joan Barry case were again 
interrogated, though the events had taken place eleven years 
before and my father had lived an exemplary life with Oona 
during the interim. My father’s lawyer, Loyd C. Wright, was 
questioned and Tim Durant was called on three separate oc- 
casions. The. witnesses were sternly reminded that perjury 
might mean a term on McNeil Island for them. The F.B.I. 
agents even questioned my mother about her divorce and any 
possible irregularities that might have taken place twenty- 
seven years before. They checked Paulette’s divorce papers 
in Juarez, Mexico, and found them in order. 

It is apparent that out of all these investigations sufficient 
grounds were never found for bringing any kind of indict- 
ment. The proof of this is that the Attorney General never 
held that public hearing, or any hearing at all for that matter. 

In February of 1953, Lhnelight was ready for release and 
reviewers in general praised it as a good piece of work. Arthur 
Knight of the Saturday Review went so far as to list my father 



as one of the three unequivocal geniuses of motion pictures — 
the other two being D. W. Griffith and Sergei Eisenstein— 
and to call his latest film his most important one. 

It is, said Mr. Knight, “in every sense a summing up, an 
epitomizing of the comedian’s fundamental philosophies and 
attitudes about life, about love, about audiences, about com- 
edy. Fundamentally, Limelight is not a comedy at all, but an 
artist s testament limned in lovely poetry and poignant wit.” 

A1 Hine, reviewing for Holiday, closed his praise of the 
picture with the telling paragraph: “Chaplin is a genius and 
admittedly a proud and difficult man ... But all of us Amer- 
icans might well remember that whatever we do to wound 
our geniuses, the eventual evil to ourselves is larger than the 
discomfort to them.” 

With the release date of Limelight so near, a new factor 
entered into my father’s complications with the government. 
Four months had elapsed since the Attorney General’s fruit- 
less announcement that he was holding a public hearing on my 
father’s status. Yet the American Legion decided to go ahead 
anyway and boycott Limelight until my father’s innocence 
was proved. Clubwomen joined the movement. And, surpris- 
ingly enough, Roy Brewer, chairman of the Hollywood Fed- 
eration of Labor Film Council, strongly backed the American 
Legion. It seemed strangely inconsistent to people in the in- 
dustry for Mr. Brewer, after having allowed his union work- 
ers to help my father create the picture, to turn around and 
ban it. 

A few shocked voices were raised in protest across the 
nation. One of these was the influential New York Times, 
which devoted an editorial to the boycott. In speaking of the 
punitive measures taken against a man who had not yet been 
found guilty it said, “If this whole business of prejudgment 
pressures and, what is worse, knuckling under to these pres- 
sures, doesn’t smack of un-Amcricanism we should like to 
know what does.” 

In Washington, D.C., the Very Reverend Francis B. Sayre, 

AA 359 


Jr., Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral, devoted a Sunday ser- 
mon to the subject of censorship. “When any group of Amer- 
icans . . . starts setting up its own little list of who is acceptable 
and who is not and then acting as though their judgment ought 
to be binding on all other Americans, then certain basic prin- 
ciples are being violated,” he said. 

But in the general tenor of the times these voices went un- 
heeded. The boycott of Limelight was a success; but, ironi- 
cally, its theme song, which of course Dad composed, moved 
rapidly into the hit bracket. 

Meanwhile my father became discouraged by persistent 
press reports that if he returned to this country he could be 
held at Ellis Island for as long as two years while being inves- 
tigated. In April of 1953 he turned in his re-entry permit to 
the United States Vice Consul, Kenneth R. Oakley, in Geneva, 
Switzerland, and settled down in Vevey. I wasn’t surprised 
he chose Switzerland as his new home. Ever since I was a 
small boy he had told me how much he liked the little democ- 
racy. Like this country, it had always appealed to him for its 
way of life and its promise of freedom for the individual. 

My father has lived in Vevey ever since, and his latest pic- 
ture, The King in New York, which was filmed abroad, is 
his testimonial to the bitterness he felt at what seemed to him 
betrayal on the part of the United States. What isn’t gen- 
erally known, though, is that the first draft of that script was 
far more biting than the one my father finally used for shoot- 
ing. After considerable reflection he toned it down decidedly. 

In Europe my father continued to be his own controversial 
self, saying what he pleased and seeing whom he chose with- 
out causing any apparent consternation. He renewed his ac- 
quaintance with Picasso, not because of the painter’s political 
associations, but because of his outstanding artistic talent. 

In February of 1954 he and Oona created a stir when Oona 
gave up her United States citizenship to become a British sub- 
ject. In that same year Dad entertained Chou En-lai, the 



Chinese Communist Premier; was awarded an honorary mem- 
bership in the Norwegian Actors Association; and was 
given the Peace Prize of fourteen thousand dollars by the 
Communist-sponsored World Peace Council. To add to his 
union of irreconcilables, he turned over part of the proceeds 
of the prize to Abbe Pierre, a Catholic priest and charity 
worker, and was immediately accused of irreverence by one 
of his vitriolic critics in this country. 

England has honored him on several occasions. Understand- 
ably he has been a featured speaker at the sedate Dickens 
Fellowship society in London. Now and then he gets a call 
from the Russian Embassy in Switzerland inviting him for a 
visit. Every time it is the same amusing little drama. My father 
dresses up smartly in his fonnal clothes and goes to the Em- 
bassy. They greet him fulsomely and tell him how much the 
Russian people love and respect him for the fine artist he is. 
My father listens politely. After a while they come to the 

“We’d love to have your pictures so the Russian people will 
know what a great artist you arc,” they say. 

“Now, what about the financial arrangements?” my father 

“Well, we thought you’d be willing to show your sub- 
jects . . 

“I will have you meet my business manager and discuss 
that with him,” Dad says. 

This always ends the interview. My father takes his leave 
each time with a feeling of disappointment, though he has 
no illusions about the Russians, never has had, really. 

During his stay in Europe my father’s biting comments 
about the United States have seen print from time to time. 
Over here, magazines and newspaper columns have periodi- 
cally raked him over the coals. But in December of 1958 he 
and our government came to an equitable understanding 
over their much publicized tax dispute. That dispute was actu- 
ally due to an honest misunderstanding and not to any recal- 



citrance on my father’s part. When he turned in his re-entry 
permit he thought he had automatically given up residence in 
America. It never occurred to him that he had also to term- 
inate it officially. He did this only after nine months, during 
which time the additional taxes accumulated. When he settled 
the bill with a five-hundred-thousand-dollar check to the 
United States Treasury the trial attorneys made it plain that 
the case had been one of honest dispute in which no criminal- 
ity was involved. I can’t help wondering if at the same time 
they weren’t a bit regretful over closing the account of such 
a well-paying client. 


I saw my father in Vcvey in 1954, while Syd and I were in 
Germany making a film together. As usual I phoned him first. 
He seemed as surprised as ever, almost shocked, that after so 
long an absence 1 should be so formal with him. 

“Why, of course, come on up,” he said. 

I went up at once. It was just five days after Chou En-lai’s 
visit. For the second time in my life — the first having been 
over his noncitizenship status — I took my father to task about 
an action of his. 

“My God, Dad,” 1 said, “why do you have this fellow up 
here to dinner? Do you know what you’re doing? You’re 
going to have all the English-speaking people hating you.” 

“I can’t help it if they take after me,” Dad answered with 



his usual stubborn logic. “I was curious about what made this 
man tick. Of course 1 don’t agree with most of his policies 
All the same he’s a very interesting man, really, very intelli- 

Gangsters ... the people on Skid Row . . . Einstein . . , 
musicians . . . H. G. Wells . . . Chou En-lai . . . my father’s 
curiosity about people is boundless. He is just as curious about 
sights of interest. He likes to travel incognito with tourists 
and listen to the harangues of the guides. He has visited all 
the places of interest in the vicinity of his villa. And while I 
was there he insisted that I let his chauffeur drive me to the 
Castle of Chillon, which so inspired Lord Byron that after 
viewing it he wrote his memorable poem, “The Prisoner of 
Chillon,” in a single night. Dad had been all through the place 

I found him living a very quiet life at Vevey. Everywhere 
there were only the green lawns and the leafage of the coun- 
try, the sights and sounds of nature, the birds, the breeze in 
the shrubbery, the placid lake with its stately swans; and on 
quiet mornings the sounds of the firing range next door where 
the Vevey citizens practiced. Remembering how my father 
abhorred even the popping of firecrackers, I wasn’t surprised 
at his exasperation over the noise of the guns or his resent- 
ment toward the agent for not having told him about it before 
he bought the estate. 

Despite the firing range it was all too quiet for my tastes 
at Vevey. I was there five days and by the fourth day I felt 
my nerves beginning to shatter. Syd told me he lasted it out 
two weeks and then had to beat it back to the big city and the 
night clubs to restore his sanity. Dad loves the seclusion and 
can stay there for longer periods than we, but he and Oona 
now and then pack off to Paris or Londf)n to sec the shows, 
the opera and the ballet and to enjoy the glamor of city life 
for a while. 

I have reason to believe, however, that despite his pleasant 
life. Dad misses the old days of premieres, of spotlights and 



enthusiastic fans. I remember the evening Oona and Dad and 
Syd and I all went to dinner at the Palace Hotel in Lausanne, 
Swit7xrland. During the course of the meal a crowd of college 
students appeared outside the door and it became obvious 
presently that they were waiting for my father. The maitre 
d’hotel offered to get us out another way, but Dad shook his 

“It’s all right,” he said. 

As we went through the front door, Syd and I tried to keep 
on either side of Oona and Dad to protect them. Though the 
crowd was friendly, it was charged with such youthful exub- 
erance that it was more like a mob. A hulking fellow came up 
and slapped Dad jokingly on the back. 

“Hi, Charlie, how are you?” he shouted. 

The elbow of another knocked him in the eye. He was 
shoved this way and that by husky young people trying to get 
close to him and pulling at his coat for souvenir buttons. 

We came close to being cnished before we could get into 
the car. Even after we were safely inside they kept tapping 
on the windows and shaking the chassis. They even put a 
few dents in the fenders before we could make our getaway. 
But Dad just sat there actually seeming to enjoy himself. It’s 
a universal tnith, I guess, that no matter how much an actor 
may like his privacy, the limelight and the accolades of his 
fellow men always act on him like heady wine. 

During my stay in Vevey Dad asked me questions about 
how things were going in Hollywood, not too many but 
enough to make me feel he had missed it more than he cared 
to admit. But there was latent bitterness still in him. It is the 
bitterness of one who has idealized his love for someone or 
something and has been hurt by what he loves. 

“Well, if they don’t want me, I don’t want to go back,” 
was his attitude. 

But altogether he has grown more mellow and philosophic 
with the years. I felt much of it w'as due to Oona s influence 



— beautiful, shy, lovable Oona and her pixie children. Oona 
once said that she wanted ten children of her own, and it 
looks as though it wasn’t a joke after all. 

While I was at Vevey I noticed with amusement that my 
father, completely surrounded now by children of varying 
ages and sizes, was no longer timidly regarding babies as sym- 
bols and wondering what to do about them. He has learned 
his father role well since those long-ago days when he hovered 
uncertain and timid over Syd’s and my cribs in the house on 
the hill. 

What did we talk about during my stay with him? With 
the Castle of Chillon so near, it was natural that my father 
should dwell on the controversial poet. He spoke of Byron’s 
clubfoot, the attraction he had for women, his bitterness to- 
ward life and his detemiination. It was this determination in 
Byron that most appealed to my own stubborn father. 

He talked, too, about Edgar Allan Poe and his weaknesses, 
his bouts with liquor and his slovenly personal habits for which 
the people of his time condemned him, while his true greatness 
was realized only after his death. He spoke in the same way 
of Shelley, whose interest in Irish politics and unorthodox 
views of love had been the cause of his exile from England. 

My father seemed to have become resigned to the fact that 
a living artist’s work will always be judged more or less 
through the perspective of his personal life. From the first he 
never doubted that he himself was an artist and that his works 
were worthy of preservation. While such Hollywood geniuses 
as D. W. Griffith carelessly allowed their films to pass out of 
their control and deteriorate, my father carefully preserved 
his in special cans designed to ward off the destructiveness of 
time and the elements. Today his films are as fresh as when 
they were first made. Devoted Chaplin fans will also be in- 
terested to learn he has preserved most of his cutouts too. And 
many of these sequences, which were eliminated for story 
purposes, are funnier than those which were retained. 



And to conclude, what of our family today? For the last 
few years I have been living with Nana, who is as sprightly as 
ever, in a small home in the San Fernando Valley. My mother, 
completely recovered from her last nervous breakdown and 
once again her old glamorous self, has been happily married 
since 1956 to Pat Longo, a trouble-shooter for the Union 
Bank of Los Angeles. Uncle Sydney is now living in Europe 
with his French wife. My brother Sydney is pursuing his 
success on Broadway. Paulette Goddard, my favorite ex, 
married Erich Remarque, the novelist, in 1958 and is living 
with him in Switzerland. But she never sees my father. 

“We live on different mountains,” she explains. She is still 
as vivacious and lovely as ever, and she still finds time for her 
acting career. 

My father’s correspondence habits remain deplorable. He 
confines himself to an occasional Christmas greeting. But 
when he learned of my marriage, on August 5, 1958, to 
actress Susan Magness, I received a congratulatory^ telegram 
from him and Oona and the six children. When, after Christ- 
mas, he learned that my wife and 1 were having first-year 
troubles and had separated despite the pending arrival, May 1 1, 
of our young daughter, Susan Maree, he decided that one of 
those earth-shaking occasions that call for a letter had arrived. 
At least he wrote me a brief but fatherly note, enclosing a 
check for a thousand dollars. 

Nine months later, disturbed by my divorce from my wife, 
he sat down again. This time he wrote a much longer letter 
full of fatherly concern and the advice and philosophy of a 
man who has learned a great deal from life. The letter runs: 

Dear Charlie, 

Sorry / have not 'written before as no doubt you 
have heard 1 ant 'writing my memoirs, 'which 'will 
take me at least another year to finish; but it takes 
up all my time drafting and redrafting. 

I had a very sympathetic letter from your 'wife; 



she sounds quite charming. It is too bad you two carCt 
really get together. You have every reason to with 
that beautiful baby of yours^ who is, I am sure, a tre- 
mendous bond between you. 

You will find, Charlie, as the years go by that 
you need an anchorage, that is, someone you have 
known over the years, and who is very close to you. 
This child of yours is so beautiful that you must 
make every effort to make her happy and in her 
tender years nothing will give her more happiness 
and security than the environment of both her par- 

I am seventy years old; and I think a great deal 
about my children; and I think about you and what 
you are doing with your life. You must not waste it. 
You have talent, a good spirit and charm; because I 
have seen you in the theater and know that your 
capabilities are manifold — if you are serious about 

I don't wish this letter to be a lecture but I was 
distressed to hear that you and your wife are di- 
vorced. She seems to me to be a very nice per- 
son. .... 

Do you hear from Sydney? I understand he is 
doing well. Y ou should be doing the same. Y ou have 
just as much talent. Write to me and let me know 
your plans. . . . 

Oona sends her love as well as the children. They 
often speak of you and are very proud and enthusi- 
astic about their little niece. They want to know 
what you are doing and why you don't come over 
and see them. They are growing: Geraldine is fif- 
teen, Michael almost fourteen, Josi almost eleven, 
Viki eight, Eugene six, Jane two and the baby three 





I know when my father speaks so poignantly of the ne- 
cessity of an anchorage he is thinking of Oona, who came to 
him in his blackest trouble, bringing her loyalty and love. I 
remember how, long ago when we were just small boys, he 
confessed to Nana that he didn’t believe anyone in the 
whole world had ever loved him enough. And I am glad that 
at last he has found Oona. 



CHARLES CHAPLIN, JR., was born in Beverly Hills, 
California, in 1925. That the theatre was in his blood is 
borne out by his grandmother’s claim that he could act 
before he could walk, and young Charles took great pleasure 
in imitating everybody — including his famous father. 

With his younger brother Sydney, Charles, Jr., attended 
Black-Foxe Military Academy in Hollywood and later the 
Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. World War II inter- 
rupted his education; he was drafted before entering Prince- 
ton. After serving three years with General Patton’s 89th 
Infantry Division and receiving two battle stars, he returned 
to California to begin formal dramatic training at U.C.L.A. 
He then joined the new Circle Theater group in Holly- 
wood, making his debut in The Time of Your Life. Follow- 
ing appearances in other plays, he was selected by the Actors 
Laboratory as one of their eleven pupils, and he studied with 
them for a year and a half. 

The next step was Broadway, and he was soon appearing 
behind the footlights with Fredric March and Florence 
Eldridge in Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. Back in Holly- 
wood, he played a bit part in Limelight with his father and 
brother, and later other screen roles. His dramatic career 
also includes the leads in the English productions of Oh, 
Men! Oh, Women! and The Seven Year Itch, and appear- 
ances at the Pasadena Playhouse. 

N. and M. RAU have reported on the Hollywood scene 
for newspapers, magazines and major press services for more 
than twenty years. Mr. Rau is a native of Nashville, Ten- 
nessee, and Mrs. Rau was born in Svvatow, China, where she 
lived for several years. The Raus, with their four sons and 
one daughter, make their home in Los Angeles.